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Oak Grove neighbors argue it will add to traffic congestion, but applicant says it will generate less than previous or current use.

The fate of a three-story, self-storage building proposed in Oak Grove is in the hands of a Clackamas County hearings officer.

Salem lawyer Fred Wilson heard more than two hours of arguments Thursday (Aug. 10) for and against a 121,000-square-foot building that will contain 900 self-storage units at 3260 SE Oak Grove Blvd.

The county planning staff has given conditional approval of the design. But neighbors — including Paul Savas, who said he did not speak as a county commissioner — argued that the two 28-foot-wide access points to the building on SE Kellogg Avenue will add to traffic congestion at the Y-shaped intersection there.

The site is also across the street from Fred Meyer, which also generates traffic from nearby McLoughlin Boulevard to the west.

Wilson said he expects to issue a written decision after formal arguments close on Sept. 1.

The site was once occupied by Parr Lumber, and currently, Indoor Garden Depot.

The Oak Grove Community Council opposes the pending approval for several reasons, among them that it is incompatible with the McLoughlin Area Plan approved by county commissioners, its height detracts from the neighborhood, and it will worsen traffic and pedestrian problems.

But applicants say the building is permitted in a C-3 (commercial) zone.

"We are here to talk about what it looks like, not what the use is," said Dana Krawczuk from the Portland law firm Perkins Coie.

The planning staff says the McLoughlin Area Plan is not part of the county zoning and development ordinance, under which building approval was granted, and there is no height limitation in that zone.

But Mike Schmeer, who spoke for the community council, said, "The most serious concern is a safety hazard of additional traffic congestion that the current design will create at the intersection."

Although an early version of the site plan for the storage building proposed access from SE Oak Grove Boulevard, staff engineer Robert Hixson said county policy is to put access points on the lower-volume street of SE Kellogg Avenue.

"From a safety standpoint, we don't believe there is an issue," Hixson said.

No traffic impact study was required, the county report says, because the storage building is estimated to generate just under the trigger of 20 trips in a peak hour — less than Parr Lumber or the garden center.

"The application will not add a significant volume of traffic," said Will Farley, who lives in the area and an engineer employed by Lancaster Engineering in Portland for the applicant.

Savas, however, said there are nearby access points from other businesses such as Key Bank and 7-Eleven. He also said residents use Oak Grove Boulevard to reach the nearby signalized intersection with McLoughlin Boulevard, the main thoroughfare linking Milwaukie, Oak Grove, Gladstone and Oregon City.

"I have been assured by traffic experts that this current clustering of access and movements would not be allowed today under current road standards," he said. "It is an existing condition that apparently has not been factored into consideration. It is no fault of the applicant that this situation exists. But it is there."

Annette Guarriello, who has lived on SE Birch Avenue south of the site for 45 years, said: "Please consider the reality of what we have been living with for the past 10 years."

Half a dozen other residents testified against the approval. One of them said there was no need for the building, although the county zoning code does not list need as a standard for approval.

Savas said later that the building is a permitted use, but that he questioned only the access points on SE Kellogg Avenue.

In rebuttal, Krawczuk said, "What is being asked is a complete redesign that is not possible… It is not this applicant's burden to fix the traffic problem."

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