WRA code amendment project set for May 19 hearing

On the heels of the planning commission’s formal approval of the city’s water resource area code amendment project, the West Linn City Council revisited the matter for the first time since last fall during a work session Monday.

The three-year project to significantly overhaul the city’s water resource area code was unveiled to the public last August, and further discussed at subsequent city council work sessions last fall.

The planning commission recommended approval of the drafted code amendments at a hearing Feb. 5.

“What you have in front of you, it’s lengthy,” City Manager Chris Jordan said. “This was a difficult chapter to try to get where we wanted it.”

The project amounts to what is essentially a complete rewrite of West Linn Community Development Code Chapter 32, according to city staff. The overarching goal is to eliminate inconsistencies that hinder property development while assuring that the city’s 26 lineal miles of water resource areas remain protected.

Water resource areas are defined as wetlands, streams and vegetated “riparian” areas that provide wildlife habitats while also helping maintain water quality, providing storm and flood mitigation and playing host to a number of recreational activities.

Jordan noted that, in the end, city staff agreed with almost all of the planning commission’s final recommendations. The two primary issues at hand to discuss during the work session concerned hardship provisions and whether the city should accept dedications of WRA land easements.

City staff and the planning commission agreed that the current hardship provisions, which allow property owners to develop a maximum of 5,000 square feet no matter how large the property is, are unfair. The amended code would allow for a maximum of 5,000 square feet or 30 percent of the WRA land, whichever adds up to be greater.

The question at hand when it came to hardship provisions was whether they should apply solely to undeveloped land, or whether developed land should be included as well.

“Some sites are developed, but not being used to the best of their capability,” Associate City Planner Peter Spir said.

The council agreed Monday that developed land should also be considered for hardship provisions.

“If the new language would allow them to do that originally (on undeveloped land), I’m not sure why we wouldn’t allow them to do it now,” Council President Jody Carson said. “That would be discriminatory.”

As far as WRA land easements, the council felt that the easements would be more trouble than they were worth. Current language allows developers to dedicate a portion of WRA land to the city, or for the establishment of protective easements.

“More times than not, requiring that conservation easement creates more trouble for the city than the protection might or might not provide,” City Councilor Mike Jones said. “If it’s a single family lot, we’re not going to know five years from now what’s going on with it.”

The final document will allow for the city and property owner to jointly agree on a dedication of land, if the city so desires, but developers will not be required to do so.

“This would be a more prudent approach,” Carson said.

In the end, should the council approve the proposed amendments, the city hopes the changes will significantly improve the land use process.

“This regulation, if approved, will be a vast improvement over where we are now,” Jordan said. “We think it alters the code to where you want it.”

The council is scheduled to make its final vote during a public hearing May 19. Due to a conflict of interest, Mayor John Kovash recused himself from any discussion about the WRA amendments.

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