Public path or private property
- Lee van der Voo
- Lake Oswego Review - News
Resident irked over stand by city
A city plan for future pathways has become a reality for one Forest Highlands homeowner, who's been asked to give up 5,000 square feet of land for a public pathway in exchange for permission to subdivide her lot.
The decision to connect Goodall and Knaus roads through a pathway on Katie Bullard's Cameo Court property is one she's fighting in front of the city's Development Review Commission.
It's also one that is stirring controversy in the Forest Highlands neighborhood, where other homeowners are now concerned about their property rights.
Those who testified at Bullard's hearing before the DRC Feb. 5 said they knew little about a city document that charts a course for future trails through their properties.
The map showing proposed pathways was never approved as part of the city's Pathways and Trails Master Plan. Until Tuesday, it wasn't available on the city's Web site or with a copy of the master plan. Bullard said requests to see the document were refused several times before being granted.
City officials, however, say a plan for a network of pathways and trails is a long-term vision that was vetted in public hearings and through neighborhood associations in 2003, when it was approved. A related map is conceptual only, they say, and is not being used to draw lines about who will and won't be asked to give up land.
Stephan Lashbrook, community development director for Lake Oswego, said the plan's improvements are only triggered by development. Those who live in the target area need not worry otherwise.
'The city doesn't have the authority to lay down pathways through people's backyards,' he said. 'Where people divide up their land is where we routinely do require exactions of one kind or another.'
City Attorney David Powell said exactions for public pathways have been made dozens of times in recent years, all on properties where development is proposed.
But for Bullard, a 51-year resident of Cameo Court, news that a city map has shown a public pathway through her land since 2003 came as a shock.
She learned about the pathway when she sought to partition her 66,748-square-foot lot into three lots and redevelop her own home while adding two others.
During a pre-application meeting with city planners, a meeting geared to highlight trouble spots for development projects, a formal application looked seamless. No one mentioned the pathway requirement, Bullard said.
'When it came through they asked her to give up 5,000 square feet of her lot for the parks master plan,' said Scott Bullard, who joined his mother at the meetings.
'She's been here (on Cameo Court) for 37 years. We never even heard of these pathways,' Bullard said.
That charge is one that's been taken up by a number of other Forest Highlands residents, where many of the proposed pathways fall on private property.
Other paths proposed in the map line public streets and criss-cross Lake Oswego's parks. They bridge swaths of private property around Waluga Junior High School, Lake Grove Elementary School and the rims of Oswego Lake Country Club and the Hunt Club.
The Forest Highlands Neighborhood Association and several residents there have supported Bullard in her appeal. The DRC closes the hearing Feb. 21 and will ultimately rule on whether Bullard must give up the land for the paths.
Bullard's supporters say Lake Oswego City Councilors purposely did not include the map in the city's Pathways and Trails Master Plan, citing concerns about private property rights.
Now, opponents say, city staffers are using it as a regulatory tool. Had it ever been formerly approved as such, notice to affected property owners would have been required by Oregon law.
'Measure 56 requires you to give notice to potentially affected properties so they have a chance to get involved in this process,' Bullard said. 'Instead, they sock-drawered the map and are admittedly pulling it out when someone makes an application.'
A lawyer for Bullard is making the same argument, also saying the proposed taking of Bullard's land is disproportionate to the impact of her proposed development.
Powell disagreed, saying the map is not regulatory, simply a reference document that is noted as such in the approved plan. It was made available to the public when the plan was approved, he said.
City planners are not enforcing the map, instead looking at each proposed development to judge whether they require neighborhood improvements, Powell said.
'You don't need this concept map to show this would be an acceptable place to connect the pathways,' he said, chiefly because the property is located near Lake Oswego High School.
Wilma McNulty, who served on a committee that helped design the Pathways and Trials Master Plan, is among several Lake Oswego residents who supported it at the DRC hearing.
McNulty and others asked the commission not to make exceptions to the plan. City records show their work in 2003 included a public survey and two public hearings. She said it was regrettable if the city hasn't done the work to make the resulting map useful but still believes it's an important tool for Lake Oswego's future.
'We are essentially built out except for these places,' where more homes are being added, McNulty said.
If a trail network doesn't get support from the public and policymakers in Lake Oswego, she said, no new recreational opportunities will be available here.
'Isn't it also a precedent?' she said. 'If we lose this one and the city decides we don't really mean it when we talk about getting out of our cars because we make these exceptions, then all of these pathways that connect on paper will never connect.'
Bullard, who lost a son to a car crash at age 12, said she's a fan of safe pathways but would prefer to see them on collectors like Goodall Road, where there are currently no sidewalks.
The Forest Highlands Neighborhood Association has also taken that position, according to its chair Chris Robinson, who has development interests in the area.
'The concept of pathways is great. What we've asked the city to do is inventory their existing easements,' Robinson said.
'Let's look at the issue after that is done and reassess the need. If there's a consensus, then how do we go about (planning for pathways) jointly?'