Amended decision: Proposal could damage wetlands

by: MARK MILLER - The basalt bluff in St. Helens that would be excavated under a development proposal that failed to obtain a required permit from the city, as seen from North 11th Street.St. Helens’ city planning administrator rejected a plan to grade a rocky outcropping off North 10th Street down to street level in an amended land use decision Tuesday, July 23, reversing an earlier preliminary decision that would have granted a permit needed for it to move ahead.

Jacob Graichen said that on reconsideration, the proposal to remove the basalt bluff does not meet St. Helens’ land use criteria. He denied the application for a sensitive lands permit, needed because the bluff abuts protected wetlands.

“There’s a variety of reasons, but one of the main ones is there’s a provision that talks about the impact is the minimum necessary for reasonable use of the property,” Graichen said. “Removing the entire bluff doesn’t meet that standard.”

Under the proposal by S St. Helens LLC, the outcropping would have been flattened to make way for additional housing in the neighborhood.

Graichen’s amended decision stated that under the proposal, “damage to the ecology of the wetland is uncertain” and “the potential of loss of wetland area ecological function is excessive and not addressed.”

It also noted that the removal of the bluff itself could require a surface mining permit from the state. That permit can only be granted with local approval, and St. Helens city code explicitly prohibits mining in residential areas.

Don Parrett, a Columbia City resident whose fourplex on North 12th Street backs up to the bluff, cheered the amended decision.

“It was the right decision by the city,” said Parrett, a vocal critic of the proposal. “It was the first step in putting this thing away, and not the last step, by any means. There are plenty of ways to get around that with wetland mitigation-type things. But if you went by the rules of the city’s own ordinances ... it was the right thing to do, there’s no doubt about it.”

Parrett said he thinks S St. Helens LLC, whose principal agent Sam Sarich has not responded to repeated requests for comment by the Spotlight, will appeal the decision. But he said the mining ordinance may present a serious obstacle for the would-be developer.

“I don’t know how they’re going to get around that,” Parrett said.

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