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St. Helens bluff decision is appealed

Developer seeks to build on currently unusable lots


by: MARK MILLER - The bluff in St. Helens that S. St. Helens LLC seeks to remove in order to make way for a subdivision development.The would-be developer of a basalt outcropping in St. Helens is appealing the city planning administrator’s decision not to grant a permit needed for the project.

City planner Jacob Graichen said S. St. Helens LLC, which seeks to remove the bluff at North 10th Street to make way for subdivision development, filed an appeal with the city’s planning department on Friday, Aug. 2.

“They disagree with the city’s decision,” said Graichen, summarizing the appeal. “I haven’t digested it too much yet.”

The permit in question at this stage is a sensitive lands permit, which the developer needs to move ahead with the project due to the bluff’s proximity to protected wetlands. Graichen wrote that the development had “excessive” potential for damage to wetlands.

An attorney for S. St. Helens LLC said the developer “filed an appeal to sort of preserve our options.”

“We hope to get to a solution that will allow them to develop the lots that were plotted at the same time that the city was incorporated,” said Dana Krawczuk. “They’re just trying to be able to build homes on them, which is the allowed use.”

The appeal argues that by preventing development of the lots, the city is effectively taking the developer’s property without compensation.

Krawczuk added, “Because of the way that the lots are historically plotted, the only way to provide access to these lots ... is to lower the grade of the site to street level.”

Opponents of the proposal have argued that removing the bluff is tantamount to mining, which is prohibited in residential areas by city ordinance. Graichen’s amended land use decision denying the sensitive lands permit notes that “the proposal appears to fall within the City’s definition of ‘mining and/or quarrying’ and ‘surface mining.’”

The appeal will be heard by the Planning Commission, but the public hearing will likely be delayed until fall, Graichen said.

Krawczuk requested a three-month delay “so that we can familiarize ourselves with the record of this proceeding and S. St. Helens LLC can respond to the evidentiary issues raised in the decision,” according to the written appeal.