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Council moves to eliminate protections on backyards

The Lake Oswego City Council is moving ahead with a plan that would remove sensitive lands protections from all private residential properties, despite lingering questions about how the idea will be received by Metro, the regional government.

Instead, the council hopes to prove it can provide the same level of environmental protection by creating new programs to buy natural resource areas for open space, to acquire conservation easements for resources on other properties, to improve management of resources on public property and to beef up education and voluntary incentives for sensitive lands owners.

The council voted Tuesday to send Mayor Jack Hoffman and Councilor Mike Kehoe to Metro with the proposal, which would eliminate environmental protections on about 1,000 private residential properties.

Today, Lake Oswego’s sensitive lands program limits development near streams and wetlands and in areas with large stands of trees. In place for a decade, it represents the city’s approach to complying with Metro policies that require regulations around wetlands and streams and to protect and restore riparian and upland wildlife habitats on both public and private properties.

Facing a public outcry over the restrictions placed on private property, the council has been looking for ways to reduce the program’s burden on citizens. Assistant City Manager Brant Williams said that, in their latest efforts, staff members tried to take a “balanced approach,” focusing on five key areas:

n Reducing or eliminating regulations on private property

n Emphasizing regulations on public property

n Focusing on existing regulations outside of the sensitive lands program — such as the tree code

n Creating new incentives and education programs

n Focusing on restoration and enhancement rather than just preservation

“The balanced approach sounds really good, but there are challenges,” Williams said, noting that complying with Metro’s policies could be an obstacle. The regional government has a “no rollback provision” that keeps local agencies from scaling back their natural resource programs.

In addition, if considering new education and enhancement programs, Williams said, “Funding is going to be a challenge.”

A backup option to scale back restrictions would be similar to the ideas now being pushed ahead, but it would keep some regulations in place on private properties while creating a new water resource classification system to modify what restrictions apply.

That alternate concept “goes a little farther” to address some of the challenges faced at the regional level, said Andrea Christenson, natural resources planner. But it raises another question, she said: “Will property owners be satisfied with a reduction instead of a complete removal of regulations?”

Hoffman and Councilors Jeff Gudman, Mary Olson, Bill Tierney and Kehoe voted in favor of approaching Metro officials with the proposal to eliminate sensitive lands protections on private residential properties. Councilors Sally Moncrieff and Donna Jordan were the lone votes against the plan.

Moncrieff said she hears from a quieter constituency that “resource protection is a value,” and imposing environmental protections on privately owned land “is not unique to Lake Oswego.”

The program, she added, “is less regulatory than what we had before so I feel the compromise has been made. ... I’m not interested in spending more staff time or taxpayer money in pursuing a different balance.

“I don’t think it serves our community well to continue to deliberate on this issue into the future indefinitely.”

Olson, who helped craft and analyze alternative programs with Christenson, Williams and City Attorney David Powell, said the sensitive lands program, in its present form, is “unfair, arbitrary” and bad for property values.

“It’s affordable because we’re putting the current program on the backs of a few individual property owners,” Olson said. “There is no sense of shared responsibility in this city for our natural resource protections. ... This is not something that should be borne by 10 percent of our property owners.”

“If this is a priority the funds will be found,” she said.




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