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Council gives final OK to Sensitive Lands 'fixes'

Code amendments precede a sweeping overhaul planned for the program in 2015

Lake Oswego’s City Council gave final approval Tuesday to a series of code amendments designed to simplify and clarify a Sensitive Lands program that both private property owners and government officials have often described as “broken.”

The program, which was put in place in 1997 to meet Metro policies regarding planning and land-use goals, maps stream, wetland and tree grove resources throughout the city. But the development rules it imposes often restrict how property owners can develop their land, and those owners have often complained to the Council that the rules are applied subjectively and inconsistently.

The entire program will get an overhaul in 2015, including a rebranding as the Natural Resource Protection Program. But in November, the city’s Planning Commission identified a series of “quick fixes” that addressed what City Manager Scott Lazenby called “quirks of the current code that have caused a number of problems for property owners.”

Those fixes, which were tentatively approved by the Council on Dec. 2 and unanimously ratified Tuesday, will:

  • Allow for an exception in the development review process for utilities that are deteriorated and must be replaced. The amendment specifies that new utilities be placed in the same location as pre-existing utilities. If those utilities are located in stream channels or wetlands, property owners must seek an alternative location or mitigate the effects of any replacement work;

  • Remove design standards for fences in Resource Protection districts, except for prohibiting fences within wetlands and stream channels. A 4-foot height restriction, for example, has been removed;

  • Add latitude to landscaping standards in areas classified as Resource Conservation or Resource Protection districts. Currently, plants used in those areas must “provide food or cover for wildlife” and not require the use of fertilizers or pesticides. The amendment removes those requirements, asking only that plants be “well-suited to local soils and growing conditions” and “not be dependent upon long-term irrigation, which can cause erosion and sedimentation.” The city will maintain a list of plants to comply with the rule;

  • Relax the regulation of security lighting in backyards that fall within a Resource Protection overlay. Currently, only low-voltage lighting that does not shine directly into the Resource Protection district is allowed; that requirement has been deleted;

  • Simplify the map corrections process, specifically in the case of scrivener error. The Council made it clear that the corrections process will only be used to remove or modify an existing designation, not to create a new Resource Protection or Resource Conservation district and not to add properties to an existing district;

  • Make Resource Conservation district tree grove delineations more predictable. A tree grove’s boundaries are measured using aerial photos or field observations to determine the outer edges of the tree canopy. That measurement will no longer include invasive and non-native tree species;

  • And tighten up stream corridor boundaries in Resource Protection districts, especially on properties with steep or variable slopes. Protected areas now will extend no more than 200 feet from the edge of the stream corridor’s high-water line.

    By Gary Stein
    email: GStein@LakeOswegoReview.com
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