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City looks to eliminate inconsistencies

West Linn proposes significant changes to water resource area code


A three-year project to significantly overhaul the city’s water resource area code was unveiled to the public in August, and is tentatively scheduled to be discussed at a Sept. 18 planning commission work session.

The project, which was detailed in an open house at city hall last week, amounts to what is essentially a complete rewrite of West Linn Community Development Code Chapter 32, according to Associate City Planner Peter Spir. 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.

“We already have protection for the WRAs in place, recently adopted in 2007,” Spir said. “But as we use our code on a regular basis we identify flaws in the code, so this is an attempt to correct those flaws and inequities.”

To augment his point, Spir cites current code language that allows for owners of vacant WRA properties to develop a maximum of 5,000 square feet, no matter how large the property is. 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.

“It didn’t seem to be fair,” Spir said. “If you had a small lot, you could develop 5,000 square feet, and with a huge lot it was the same thing.”

The code amendments would also alter language permitting WRA construction only if it is of “minimum economically viable use,” opting for the less restrictive “reasonable use.” This would allow for “uses consistent with other uses and buildings on nearby properties or in that same zone.”

“That’s a term that’s used throughout the state of Washington,” Spir said. “And it seems to be a lot more equitable.”

Finally, the code amendments would lessen restrictions on temporarily disturbed areas. Such areas currently count toward the 5,000-square-foot development limit, even if they are later filled and re-vegetated; the new code would exempt them.

“If you dig a trench (for utilities) and then restore it, the corridor you disturbed counts against the 5,000 square feet,” Spir said. “Things like that, if you stepped back and looked at it, didn’t make much sense.”

Spir made his case to the public at an open house on Aug. 29, as about a dozen citizens listened to his presentation and voiced their concerns.

One woman said she did not see enough protection for existing properties that were already developed, while a man suggested that the city should seek out each individual affected by the amendments.

Resident Ann Miller was nonplussed by that idea.

“I am a taxpayer and this has affected me for many years,” Miller said. “To delay the process more would be extremely frustrating. The city (residents) have to take more responsibility to read public notices. ... I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who are passive.”

Miller, for her part, owns a 2.4-acre parcel of land on a water resource area near Willamette Park. She’s held it for years, and throughout that time it has been deemed virtually undevelopable under current code. “Because of the way the current ordinance is written, there’s not ‘reasonable economic use’ of the land available,” Miller said. “I’m paying taxes on it as if it’s land that could be developed, and that doesn’t seem fair.”

According to Spir, the next step in the process is to take the amendments to a planning commission work session on Sept. 18. A formal planning commission hearing would likely take place on either Oct. 2 or Oct. 16, and the amendments would move to the city council by November or early December. Spir stressed that those dates are tentative.

To learn more, visit westlinnoregon.gov/wra. If you want to know if your property is affected by the amendments, visit westlinnoregon.gov/planning/my-property-affected.

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