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Private teachers get reprieve from code restrictions

City code now allows eight trips a day, except businesses with students

Music lovers turned out in full force at the Jan. 9 West Linn City Council meeting - worried a change in city code could hamper private instructors.

The city of West Linn has a large number of registered businesses run out of private homes, about 400 of them. Of those, just 12 are private teachers or tutors who give lessons such as music, dance and art.

A proposed restriction on the number of trips to and from a home business was recently explored by the planning commission, city staff and the city council.

The city started relooking at the Community Development Code back in 2009.

The issue recently took on a new life when neighbors living on Linn Lane said a music teacher's home business is negatively affecting the neighborhood.

Finishing work at 7 p.m.

In the past, home occupations that involved students were exempt from trip limitations. The code is mainly in place to prevent repeated delivery truck trips on residential roads.

That exemption was eliminated in 2008 during 'housekeeping' and cleaning up of the code.

'The decision was not based on any complaints or problems but on the belief that the potential neighborhood impact of student versus non-student trips was the same,' according to a city report.

As a result, all home businesses were then limited to five roundtrips a day, though enforcement of the code is strictly complaint driven.

Soon after, in 2009, planning staff took another look at the number of allowed trips, considering increasing them.

The number of allowed trips for home businesses varies city by city. Tigard allows six trips a day, whereas Wilsonville and Lake Oswego have vague descriptions of keeping trips to a minimum. Tualatin allows 10 trips a day and 20 for instructional related home occupations.

At a Nov. 2, 2011, planning commission meeting the commission recommended increasing the number of trips from five to eight and adding an extra hour in the evening - from 6 to 7 p.m. However, they did not recommend exempting schools.

This new recommendation would mean private instructors would be limited to just eight students a day with a finish time of 7 p.m.

After receiving a deluge of input from the parents of students who receive music lessons, city staff gave the issue more consideration.

'It's important not to get tunnel vision when writing code,' said Peter Spirs, city associate planner. 'We have to look at how the code will impact the broader community.'

Linn Lane dead-end

The tunnel vision Spirs referred to were the complaints coming from Linn Lane, a small dead-end street off of Rosemont Road.

Linn Lane residents' grievances include high traffic volume on their narrow road, speeding vehicles, fumes from idling vehicles, headlights in windows, loud stereos and damage to their property from parked vehicles.

However, city staff said Linn Lane is an anomaly and they are not receiving complaints about similar home occupations in other parts of the city.

Jerome Couture and his wife are both home-based music teachers with six trips a day each to and from their home. He said being consistently proactive is key for good stewardship.

'We take care of our neighbors first,' he said, mentioning a new fence and hedges and new lights installed to protect neighbors. He said parents are given parking charts and warned if neighbors complain about their coming or going, they will be dismissed from lessons.

'There's a way to do this,' Couture said.

Aaron Bloom, a piano teacher, presented the council with a petition signed by 300 supporters of exempting trip limitations for instructors.

'It would severely impair the ability of teachers and tutors to earn a living here,' Bloom said.

'Teachers need to communicate to their families what is expected,' said resident Melinda Robinson. 'We've always understood we need to be calm and quiet as we enter and exit.'

Councilor Mike Jones moved to pass the staff recommendation of changing the code to raising the number of allowed trips to eight a day with an exemption of businesses with students. The hours of allowed operation also increased from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Councilor Jenni Tan seconded it.

'There really aren't any winners,' said Jones, adding the issue was a legislative nightmare saying it has cost the city tens of thousands of dollars in staff time. 'It's a very, very difficult piece of code.'

'We all want the best for our children,' said Tan. 'Both sides are good … I think we can have positive change. It's wonderful that we have people who care on all sides.'

Mayor John Kovash said it has been a long process.

'This code applies to all businesses, but we've focused on music teachers and we've focused on one street,' said Kovash, adding that the city hasn't heard from any other home occupations about the issue.

Kovash told the packed room at council meeting, 'You made a difference. I think that speaks well for you and our city.'

To help mediate the conflict on Linn Lane, the city has reduced the speed limit on the road to 15 miles per hour.




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