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Council opts to deny ConAm rezoning application

Cites lack of proof that land isn't suitable for commercial development

In a 2-1 decision Tuesday night, the City Council voted to deny a proposed zoning change at an 11-acre property on the corner of Blankenship Road and Tannler Drive.

The property, owned by ConAm Properties, LLC, was originally approved as commercial land zoned for “office-business center” use. The proposed zoning change and comprehensive plan amendment would have instead allowed for “medium-high density, single and multiple family residential” construction.

The Planning Commission approved ConAm’s proposal back on Oct. 29, and city staff also recommended approval during a Jan. 12 public hearing.

Ultimately, however, both Mayor John Kovash and City Councilor Jenni Tan voted to deny the zoning change, while the lone voice in favor of the application belonged to Council President Thomas Frank.

“The applicant cites lack of demand for office space as being cause for this not being suitable zoning, but I don’t think ‘lack of demand’ is the same as ‘not suitable,’” Kovash said. “There’s a difference.”

Tan, for her part, said that her decision was based in large part on a lack of existing commercial land across the city.

“I’m looking towards the future, and I understand the applicant states that the site may not be able to be developed commercially immediately,” Tan said. “But I would recommend to preserve the opportunity for future commercial development.”

In response, Frank pointed out that the land had been zoned for commercial use since the 1980s and had yet to be used effectively.

“We currently have 145,000 developable square feet of office space, and within that, we’re just under 30 percent vacant,” Frank said. “To add another 300,000 square feet, roughly — it would sit vacant and would continue to sit vacant for a long time, and that just does not make sense.”

Frank also cited traffic issues in the area, and believed that it had been “effectively demonstrated” that traffic would reduce if the area were re-zoned as residential space.

Kovash disagreed.

“General studies show that business attracts less traffic than housing,” he said. “Whatever we do, we’ll have more traffic if that site is built on.”

With regard to concerns about vacant office space, Kovash acknowledged that "there is, I think, less demand for office space."

"But," he said, "I think that does not mean it is zoned incorrectly."

After the vote, ConAm Development Manager Rob Morgan said he was unsure how the firm would move forward with the property.

"Obviously we're frustrated and disappointed it didn’t go our way," Morgan said. "We're still assessing things at this point."

Kovash, Tan and Frank were the sole decision makers on this particular application after Councilors Brenda Perry and Russ Axelrod opted to recuse themselves at the Jan. 12 hearing.

In a Jan. 8 letter addressed to the West Linn City Council, attorney Michael Robinson, on behalf of ConAm, asked that both Perry an Axelrod abstain or be disqualified from Monday’s hearing based on past biases against the application.

By rule, Perry was precluded from voting on the application, as anyone who was once “party” to a matter may not vote on it as a City Councilor. She became a “party” to the planning commission hearing when she signed her name on testimony against the application.

Robinson’s challenge against Axelrod was based on a Sept. 30 email sent from Axelrod — who was then Vice Chairman of the planning commission — to his fellow planning commission members, stating that he had “strong opposition” to the application. He chose to recuse himself after City Attorney Tim Ramis noted that taxpayer dollars would have to be used in any legal challenge of bias that could occur down the line.


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