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Time-out called in city density debate

Development -- Council kicks Rau property proposal back to planners

The Forest Grove City Council on Monday night sent proponents of a controversial high-density development back to the drawing board - literally.

In a 6-0 vote, the councilors voted to table the zoning questions before them and allow the developers to take a revised proposal back to the city's planning commission.

The project, as first proposed two years ago, called for putting 122 units of housing on a 20-acre parcel west of B Street that slopes toward Gales Creek.

Neighbors and other community members have raised several concerns relating to the flooding that occurs on the property, the slope of the land, the use of fill and the establishment of high-density rowhouses adjacent to existing single-family homes with oversized lots.

After hearing those concerns, the planning commission rejected the developer's request to allow high-density housing throughout the parcel. Instead, the panel recommended that the lower portion of the property be zoned for larger lots.

That recommendation was pending before the city council when the developer agreed to take a step back, rather than risk being locked into the low-density zoning.

Mayor Richard Kidd said he was hesitant to further delay the project, which has been the subject of a half-dozen lengthy hearings before both the planning commission and the city council.

'I'm concerned by the time that is at stake here,' he said. 'This has been going for a long time but in order to do it right we want to let the planning commission look at new evidence.'

Before voting, councilors wanted an assurance that the delay was OK with the developer, LDC Design Group, and the property owners, Ron and Wanda Rau.

Bob Browning, a lawyer who represents the Raus, told councilors his clients were willing to let the developer take another crack at a plan that might prompt the planning commission to reconsider its recommendation on zoning.

Browning had long argued that the high-density zoning established on the upper level of the property decades ago should be continued on to the lower portion of the property.

That section of land is in the process of being brought inside the Urban Growth Boundary, the line that limits development.

Speaking after the council vote, Browning explained that 'If they had gone forward (with low-density zoning), it would have ended up in litigation.'

Ryan O'Brien, of LDC Design, said his group will present a revised development proposal to the planning commission on July 12. He said the proposal won't call for building in the flood area, and won't use any significant fill. Instead, he said, the housing units will be clustered in other areas.

He said the end result might be a proposal that puts even more high-density housing, including rowhouses, on the upper portion of the land.

'This gives us the chance to get a plan that the planning commission will like and maybe even the neighbors, or some of the neighbors, will like,' O'Brien said.

At least one of the neighbors, Ron Thompson, is skeptical. 'Looks like we go back to the drawing board,' he said.

Councilor Pete Truax said he understands that people will be frustrated by the council's delaying a vote.

'What's happening here is creating a whole slew of ill will in the community and that's not what the public process is supposed to be about,' he said. 'We need more time to come up with the right decision.'