Passage by City Council meant to create 'an easier process for all'

A three-year project to significantly overhaul the city’s water resource area code was approved unanimously by the City Council on Monday.

The effort was unveiled to the public last August, and further discussed at subsequent City Council work sessions last fall.

The planning commission recommended approval of the drafted code amendments at a hearing Feb. 5.

The project amounts to what is essentially a complete rewrite of West Linn Community Development Code Chapter 32, according to city staff. The overarching goal is to eliminate inconsistencies that hinder property development while assuring that the city’s 26 lineal miles of water resource areas remain protected.

Water resource areas are defined as wetlands, streams and vegetated “riparian” areas that provide wildlife habitats while also helping maintain water quality, providing storm and flood mitigation and playing host to a number of recreational activities.

“The clarity in this revised code is much appreciated,” Council President Jody Carson said. “Adding clarity to the language will make (development) a much easier process for all.”

The code amendments include a significant change in the city’s hardship provisions. Where current code language allowed for owners of vacant WRA properties to develop a maximum of 5,000 square feet, no matter how large the property was, the amended code would allow for a maximum of 5,000 square feet or 30 percent of the WRA land, whichever adds up to be greater.

Thus, a 1-acre parcel (43,560 square feet) would be allowed 13,068 square feet of development, almost tripling what is currently permitted.

The code amendments also alter language permitting WRA construction only if it is of “minimum economically viable use,” opting for the less restrictive “reasonable use.”

“These amendments remove arbitrary and inconvenient restrictions,” City Councilor Jenni Tan said.

Restrictions on temporarily disturbed areas are also lessened under the code amendments. Such areas currently count toward the 5,000-square-foot development limit, even if they are later filled and re-vegetated; the new code exempts them, so long as the restoration and re-vegetation are completed.

Though the amendments were met with unanimous approval from the City Council, a number of residents expressed concerns in written testimony submitted to the city.

“We value the unique and beautiful surroundings protected by and embodied in the city’s Water Resource Area designations,” residents Amy and William Swartz wrote. “We are very concerned that the proposed changes ... weaken environmental protections, reduce technical oversight, limit public information and input and expose the city to litigation.”

City Councilor Thomas Frank was not present for the final vote. Mayor John Kovash, meanwhile, recused himself due to a conflict of interest.

By Patrick Malee
503-636-1281 ex
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