LUBA sides with Metro on appeal of council decision

A state board has rejected Lake Oswego’s efforts to remove natural resource protections from a grove of trees.

The decision, reached Aug. 21 by the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, stems from the Lake Oswego City Council’s decision last year to remove stricter land-use regulations from a grove of trees located on properties bordering parts of Goodall Road and Cameo Court.

It was one of six groves the council removed regulations from after finding the change would allow for only a minimal amount of increased development, which falls under an exception from Metro, the regional government, allowing for reduced natural resource protections that allow for only “de minimis” impacts.

But Metro planners told the city last year that removing protections from the grove would put Lake Oswego in conflict with a regional policy requiring preservation of fish and wildlife habitat.

The regional government then challenged the city council’s decision, arguing that, in the case of the one tree grove, removing sensitive lands protections would allow development that would displace a “significant amount of upland wildlife habitat,” according to LUBA records.

Without the tree grove regulations, multiple new homes could be built on a couple of lots along Cameo Court and Goodall Road, according to Metro.

The state land-use board sided with Metro, finding the Lake Oswego City Council lacked evidence showing that removal of the protections wouldn’t result in more than minimal new development within wildlife habitat.

The protections, part of Lake Oswego’s broader sensitive lands program, ignited controversy several years ago, setting off efforts to tweak and later to overhaul the entire program. The program sets stricter land-use rules on properties mapped with natural resources such as streams, wetlands and tree groves. While it doesn’t prohibit all development, it does limit it by maintaining a buffer around waterways and protecting tree stands considered wildlife habitat areas.

Citizens for Stewardship of Lake Oswego Lands, a political action group that formed in opposition to the way the city designates and regulates environmentally sensitive lands, intervened on the city’s behalf in the LUBA case.

Bob Thompson, a member of the group’s directing board, issued a statement last week in response to LUBA’s ruling.

“Metro’s vigorous pursuit to overturn the LO City Council’s reasonable decision regarding less than 1 acre of citizens’ backyards clearly shows that this is not about the environment or natural resources, but how focused Metro is on its control and power rather than being a respectful partner with local cities and taxpaying citizens,” Thompson said.

Mayor Kent Studebaker said last week he was unsure of a specific date but the council would decide soon whether to challenge LUBA’s decision or go back to the drawing board to provide more evidence for its previous decision.

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