Supporters say new rules will help lure businesses, but foes fear residents will lose voice in development

The West Linn City Council chose not to make a final vote on the much discussed regulatory streamlining project Monday night, but it did hear impassioned testimony from both sides during a public hearing.

The city council pushed back its final vote on the regulatory streamlining project to June 9

The council agreed to delay its final vote to June 9 in order to allow for all testimony to be properly considered.

“Usually at public hearings, we take testimony, close the hearing and move to make a decision,” Mayor John Kovash said. “This hearing, we’ve gotten written testimony which came in late today. Because this is not an action that needs to be taken tonight, we’re going to close the public hearing and continue to a later date so we will have time to consider testimony.”

The project, which kicked off in April 2013, is a key facet of the city’s effort to foster economic development in its commercial areas. A series of amendments to the community development code were created with the intent to “remove unnecessary, inefficient regulatory barriers associated with doing business in the city.”

The final amendment package included changes that would eliminate the 2003 City Council goals from the comprehensive plan; move quasi-judicial appeals to an “on the record process” as opposed to “de novo” or “as new”: and require a majority of members of a public meeting to “call up” or review a decision made by a lower approval body, as opposed to just two members.

Previous amendment packages also included alterations to tree protection codes, commercial setback provisions, conditional use permit language and fees for neighborhood associations, but the council decided in an April 21 work session to table those until a future date.

At Monday’s public hearing, testimony came in both written and oral form. The six speakers present at the meeting offered varying takes on the matter, with some voicing strong opposition to the amendment package while others voiced support of its general intent.

“This is about time, this change,” resident Alice Richmond said. “We need to be thinking about the economy.”

Speaking for the Savanna Oaks neighborhood association, resident Roberta Schwarz maintained that the amendments were misrepresented by the city.

“By approving the cutting the red tape amendments, you will be showing to be a local level oligarchy,” Schwarz said. “These amendments are not for economic development, but development.”

Schwarz and former city Councilor Teri Cummings also stressed that the change from “de novo” hearings to “on the record” would impede residents from having their voices heard during appeal processes.

“De novo is a huge takeaway for the citizens of West Linn,” Schwarz said.

“The best way to limit appeals is to limit the possibility for mistakes,” Cummings said. “De novo and the two-person call up rules are very important.”

Other residents felt that the time had come for change, and that the city’s code had become much too convoluted. Dale Gibson spoke about a recent experience while trying to start a teen center in West Linn.

Gibson described an “arduous” process while applying for a permanent conditional use permit, and said the total cost of the application was $7,150.

“Money is better spent on the youth center than on city bureaucracy,” Gibson said.

Land use attorney Mike Robinson offered a succinct message to the council.

“I’m urging you to adopt the amendments,” Robinson said. “I think they’ll offer benefits, I think they’ll cut red tape.”

The public hearing was closed after testimony ended Monday, thus closing the record and prohibiting any further testimony from being submitted.

At the June 9 meeting, the council will vote to either approve or deny the amendments.

By Patrick Malee
503-636-1281 ex
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