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Commission reviews residents' input on Sensitive Lands plan

City hopes to have a final proposal ready for a public hearing in September


SIEGELArmed with dozens of pages of public comments, Lake Oswego’s Planning Commission met for more than three hours Monday night in what is likely the last step before the city finalizes its revised proposal for an overhaul of the Sensitive Lands program.

A public hearing on the proposal is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 14.

The revised Healthy Ecosystem proposal, an alternative to the city’s contentious Sensitive Lands program, was retooled in June to better align with state and Metro regulations — although some members of the commission weren’t happy with having to make what they saw as drastic changes.

“The notion that some little regional government can say that there shall be no rollback of some regulation that they form is absurd,” Commissioner Bill Ward said.

One issue Metro had with the city’s original overhaul was what it saw as the Natural Resources Protection Program’s insufficient stream buffers.

“What I heard from (the Department of Environmental Quality) is if we were to go forward with those reduced buffers, we would have to do something else to compensate for the potential reduction in water quality,” said Scot Siegel, the city’s planning and building services director. “And we don’t have anything else left in our quiver.”

In response, Siegel and his staff followed the City Council’s direction to increase stream buffers and to update Sensitive Lands maps to include streams that are currently missing from the survey. Using Lidar mapping — rather than aerial photography — has made surveying the Sensitive Lands overlays more accurate, Siegel said.

“There are more properties proposed to have Sensitive Lands removed than added,” Siegel said.

About a half-dozen community members emailed the city with their concerns about the most recent iteration of the Sensitive Lands overhaul.

Bill Abadie, who lives on Meadows Drive voiced his support for a previous public review draft of the program, which he said “continues to protect streams, wetlands and tree groves, while taking into account private property in a highly developed community.”

Former City Councilor Lauren Hughes provided the commission with a chronology of what she saw as an unfair application of the Sensitive Lands program: The West End Building was inventoried and found to have tree grove, stream and wetland resources, she said, yet at the time of its attempted sale in 2014, the property was given a Sensitive Lands exception.

“I voted ‘no’ to the sale because of the (Sensitive Lands) issue,” Hughes wrote, adding, “Over the years, there have been several quasi-judicial proceedings to add an individual property to (Sensitive Lands), so the WEB property could have been added by the city at any time once the ‘mistake’ was discovered.”

David Streiff, president of the board of LO Stewards, criticized the new proposal, saying that “despite years of promises that this ‘broken’ program would be fixed, nothing could be further from the truth.”

“While we agree with the proposal’s greater protections on our community’s open space and natural areas,” Streiff wrote, “we do not support the increased regulation on private residential property.”

The Commission spent much of the work session discussing the comments and integrating them into revisions for the public hearing draft. Commission Vice Chair John LaMotte praised Siegel for making an intimidating process more navigable for concerned citizens. For his part, Siegel acknowledged that the long process of overhauling the Sensitive Lands program had been riddled with unachievable expectations.

“Initially the direction or the desire was to remove all Sensitive Lands designations,” Siegel said. “That was totally unrealistic. That was overpromising to the hilt.”

“We finally are addressing I think the core issues with this program, “he said, “that it’s unfair, that it’s not science-based, that there are resources that are not protected and that there are properties that are over-regulated.”

Siegel said that following Monday’s work session, he and his staff would prepare a public hearing draft of the proposed program and issue a new notice to Metro. Public hearing notices will then be mailed out, along with Measure 56 notices for the owners of property with Sensitive Lands designations, at least 20 days prior to the Sept. 14 hearing.

Contact Saundra Sorenson at 503-636-1281 ext. 107 or ssorenson@lakeoswegoreview.com.

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