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Planning commission denies new development

SUBMITTED PHOTO: DORIANNE PALMER - Residents who spoke against the proposed 34-lot development on Upper Midhill Drive said the construction would disrupt the natural forest area.The property has been in limbo for years — a six-acre plot that’s as enticing to developers as it is cherished by neighbors for its peaceful and natural charm.

Those competing interests collided April 20 during a West Linn Planning Commission hearing regarding a proposed 34-lot residential subdivision at 18000 Upper Midhill Drive — a West Linn address that sits on the border of Lake Oswego near Marylhurst University. The property, owned by Upper Midhill Estates, LLC, and referred to as the Chene Blanc Subdivision, would contain single-family homes on lots ranging from 4,615 to 11,705 square feet — the majority being at least 6,000 square feet.

A number of residents testified against the project April 20, expressing concerns with infrastructure, traffic, density and preservation, while the applicants insisted that this was the minimum amount of homes allowed under the property’s R-4.5 single-family residential zoning.

“We’re actually very proud of the project we have before you,” said Andrew Tull, principal planner at the 3-J Consulting Firm hired by the property owner. “I think we’ve done a very good job of accomplishing our goals. We are at minimum density.”

The planning commission ultimately came to a stalemate with a 3-3 tie April 20 — meaning the application would be denied — and voted to uphold that decision at another meeting May 4.

As Tull noted in his April 20 presentation before the planning commission, the fate of 18000 Upper Midhill Drive has been in flux since 1999.

“In 1999, a company called JT Smith Properties acquired it, and started to move toward the development of a 52-lot planned unit development that would have created 52 townhomes,” Tull said. “In late 2001, a neighbor came in to the JT Smith offices and purchased the property to stop development.”

Things were quiet until the spring of 2014, when Lennar Homes Company proposed a 34-lot development on the property. Residents spoke out against the project, and Lennar eventually abandoned the application.

SUBMITTED PHOTO: DORIANNE PALMER - Another primary concern for residents was the ability of surrounding streets to handle an increase in traffic.

The property was recently sold to Ryan Zygar, who in turn began pursuing another 34-lot subdivision with the help of Tull and 3J.

“During the 15-year period when the property was not under consideration for development, there were no requests to re-zone to R-10 or open space or a park,” Tull said. “There was no attempt made to purchase the property by the City or neighbors.”

Tull emphasized that the developers were sensitive to density concerns, and thus proposed the minimum 34 homes as opposed to the 48 houses current zoning allows. Trees, too, were a concern for the developer, and Tull said the subdivision was designed with protection in mind.

"Really a primary goal was to retain as many trees as possible,” Tull said, “with our priorities being placed upon trees surrounding the perimeter (of the site) and groups of trees we could retain that weren’t going to be subject to significant grading activities in order to get roadways through the site.”

In all, the developers promised to save 33 percent of the “significant tree canopy,” which would amount to about 50 significant trees, as well as 62 “non-significant” trees according to a City staff report. City code for areas zoned R-4.5 requires at least 20 percent of significant trees to be preserved during development.

Yet regardless of tree protection measures and the lesser density proposed, residents spoke out largely against the project during the planning commission hearing.

“The number one issue I’ve got is the density of homes being proposed in the center of low density neighborhoods on all four sides,” said Scot Chandler, a resident who lives on the Lake Oswego side of the property. “No one in the surrounding area wants 34 homes in an R-4.5 zone packed into an area bordered by R-10 and R-15 zoned neighborhoods.”

Chandler added that, “It’s not a planned development with a finite timeframe for the completion of home construction.”

“The construction on 34 homes could run many years, and the noise generated from all these separate projects will have a huge impact on the surrounding neighborhoods,” Chandler said.

Speaking on behalf of the Robinwood Neighborhood Association, resident Dorianne Palmer noted that the association had adopted a resolution opposing the project during an April 12 meeting.

“The development as proposed would cause a dramatic increase in traffic, with an estimated additional 340 car trips per day through the most impacted section of Highway 43 and Arbor Drive,” Palmer said. “There’s no concrete plan to address the dramatic increase in traffic. Mitigation projects should be constructed before the construction traffic begins.”

As part of the conditions of approval proposed by City staff, the developers would contribute funding for a new left turn-only lane on Highway 43 from Arbor Drive to Shadow Hollow Way. That condition was determined by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), which owns Highway 43.

Speaking on behalf of the developer, attorney David Noren said the bottom line was that the application met city code, and that it was designed to limit disruption as much as possible.

“We aren’t asking for all that would be allowed here,” Noren said. “We’re asking for the absolute minimum. If we proposed less, you’d have to deny us. We feel we’re doing all we can to provide a balanced, reasonable project here.”

Ultimately, the six planning commissioners present at the hearing expressed split opinions.

Commissioner Charles Matthews, for his part, focused his concerns on the infrastructure surrounding the property.

“What I have a difficult time getting past in the code is 85.200, ‘no subdivisions shall be approved unless adequate public facilities are available,’” Matthews said. “I’m totally comfortable with R-4.5, this is not an argument about zoning. But creating a subdivision of that substantial size, I don’t believe the streets that would provide all entry and exit are sufficient to meet the needs of that community.”

“I firmly believe the city’s infrastructure will not support the development as it sits now,” Commissioner Jim Farrell added.

Yet other commissioners said that the planning commission’s role was simply to judge the application on its own merit, without addressing the broader surrounding area.

“I’m uncomfortable asking any applicant or developer to go that far beyond their own property, and what their property directly affects,” Commissioner Jesse Knight said. “While I support the thought behind it, I’m not sure it’s something we can actually do.”

“I can’t think of a time in the past where an applicant has to go to such a great extent for improvement on any application,” Planning Commission Chair Michael Babbitt said.

An eventual motion to recommend approval of the application resulted in a 3-3 tie, thus prompting another deliberation session this past Wednesday, May 4, after The Tidings went to press.

The applicants now have 14 days to file an appeal to the City Council.

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..