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Upper Midhill hearings are set to continue

Developers and concerned residents will have to wait just a bit longer for a final decision on a 34-lot subdivision proposal at 18000 Upper Midhill Drive, also known as the Chene Blanc Subdivision.

The project, which was denied at the West Linn Planning Commission by way of a 3-3 tie vote in May, came before the City Council on appeal at a July 25 meeting. Though the Council heard testimony from both the project developers — Upper Midhill Estates, LLC — and a number of residents who opposed the project, it ultimately opted to reopen the record to allow for the inclusion of a May 4 letter sent on behalf of Upper Midhill Estates. Thus, the public hearing was extended to Aug. 15 to allow for responses to said letter.

The site is a 6-acre plot that, while technically a West Linn address, also sits on the border of Lake Oswego near Marylhurst University. If developed as proposed, the property would contain single-family homes on lots ranging from 4,615 to 11,705 square feet — the majority being at least 6,000 square feet.

At the Planning Commission hearings in April, residents expressed concerns with infrastructure, traffic, density and preservation, while the applicants said the proposal was sound and would actually result in the minimum amount of homes allowed under the property’s R-4.5 zoning. The Planning Commission ultimately came to a stalemate with a 3-3 tie April 20 — meaning the application would be denied — and voted to uphold that decision at another meeting May 4.

The aforementioned letter, also written May 4 by Andrew Tull of 3J Consulting, Inc., fittingly addressed the two issues that would be at the center of the appeal: double frontage lots and the adequacy of public facilities in the vicinity of the development lot. After the Council voted 4-1 to allow that letter to be entered into the record, debates began regarding those specific criteria.

According to City code, double frontage lots and parcels “have frontage on a street at the front and rear property lines” and “shall be avoided except where they are essential to provide separation of residential development from arterial streets or adjacent non-residential activities, or to overcome specific disadvantages of topography and orientation.”

The Planning Commission found that the Upper Midhill Estates project would create double frontage lots on the west side of the property in Lake Oswego, which would be “problematic” despite City staff’s assertion that no double frontage would arise within West Linn city limits.

In a presentation at the July 25 hearing, Tull said that double frontage lots were created previously by the Lake Oswego subdivision adjacent to the Midhill site, and thus the Upper Midhill project could not change what was already in place.

He added that even if new double frontage was being created, it could fall under exceptions to City code due to the steep grades on the site.

Resident Scot Chandler, meanwhile, said that Scenic Drive — the West Linn street that makes up half of what Tull called existing double frontage — was unpaved and hadn’t been used for many years

“They speak of Scenic Drive as an existing roadway, but there’s nothing there but weeds,” Chandler said. “It’s not an existing roadway. You can say it was plotted as such in 1923, 93 years ago, when there were still horse and buggies running around West Linn. ... Things have changed since then.”

Even more passionate were those who expressed concerns about safety and the adequacy of public facilities surrounding the property — particularly the streets leading to Highway 43.

“All you have to do is drive the length of Upper Midhill Drive and you will see the large amount of pedestrian and bicycle traffic of all ages,” resident Scarlett Harris said. “You will see them and you will experience how narrow and how unsafe it is for vehicles and pedestrians alike to travel down the length of Upper Midhill to Marylhurst.”

Tull disagreed, and noted that the Fire Marshal had no concerns with access points in the area.”The applicant does not believe additional improvements along Upper Midhill or Arbor are required, or would be welcome by neighbors,” Tull said.

As part of the application, Upper Midhill Estate did promise to fund improvements at the intersection of Arbor Drive and Highway 43, a troublesome spot that residents say would worsen if the new development generated more trips through it. However, City Councilor Bob Martin noted that Highway 43 is ultimately controlled by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

“If we were to say we want you to make this intersection safe for people using it, we’d be asking you to do something you can’t do,” Martin said.

The record will remain open for additional public comments — so long as they do not introduce new evidence — until Aug. 10. The hearing will continue Aug. 15 at 6 p.m. at West Linn City Hall.

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..