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Changes loom in development code

Significant changes to the Community Development Code are being considered by city council at a public hearing on Tuesday, July 19, at 6 p.m. in Lake Oswego Council Chambers. These changes impact the entire community; yet very few people know about these proposed changes and their implications.

We've reviewed the almost 700 page packet for the July 19th hearing, and although city staff is terming these changes 'housekeeping/policy light,' we have found alarming proposals for changing the code to the detriment of property owners. 'Sensitive lands' property owners are no longer alone in the potential for the loss of their property rights if some of these changes are approved.

1.) There are broad changes to the definitions of Open Space, Parks and Natural Areas that seem open to vast interpretation and policy shift. Parklands would consist of both public and private property. And, new definitions could have significant impact to the loss of rights of private property owners with the move to create open space and public access on private residential property for trails, pathways, views and recreation.

2.) A private land use attorney working for one citizen wrote some of the most broad and alarming language regarding the new definition of 'Natural Areas.' The requirements for maintenance of these areas limits landscaping to native plants, specifies that fences can only be 3 feet tall, requires 'snags' must be left, and if homeowner associations do not follow these guidelines, the city can enforce.

3.) Just six months after council claims to have lightened 'sensitive lands' regulations, they are now proposing code changes that will actually increase 'sensitive lands' restrictions beyond what they were before the changes made in December 2010.

4.) If council approves this new ordinance, 'sensitive lands' property owners and those in neighboring 'buffers' will have to apply for a permit to landscape their yards. They will be limited to using only those plants that have been pre-approved by the city on a 'native plant' list (a very short and limiting list). Any plant not on that list will have to be specifically approved by city staff. Property owners in areas zoned as 'natural areas, (which includes backyards), will no longer have a right to select plants based on 'decorative landscaping purposes.' Staff indicates that plants cannot be selected based on 'the owners' preference for types of plants as part of an overall landscaping plan.' More micromanagement of what should be our citizens own good stewardship of their own lands.

5.) Many of the proposed changes are codification of 'staff practice.' Essentially, city staff has created policy through their interpretations and is now looking for council's blessing through the backdoor by calling it 'housekeeping.'

These code changes were barely reviewed in a council 'study session' on June 14 and were originally scheduled for a hasty vote on July 5. This document is almost 700 pages of potentially damaging changes to code that further restrict the rights many citizens have to the use and management of their own backyards. It's imperative that each councilor read and understand the implications this document has for our citizens property rights. Citizens should be provided proper notification and a well-publicized public hearing before a vote is taken.

To learn more, please see our website /www.lostewards.org. And, please, show up on July 19 to protect your rights.

Bob Thompson, Lake Oswego, is a member of LO Stewards PAC.