The best way to reduce the number of appeals in West Linn should come as a result of reducing the number of errors, not restricting the right to address mistakes.

Several years ago the Planning Commission approved a hotel application without realizing the serious problems it posed. A potential fire trap was never built in Willamette thanks to several safeguards in West Linn’s codes that were put on the “red tape” cutting block by our City Council.

In 2009, the two-person call up rule in Community Development Code (CDC) 99.240(C)(2) gave city councilors, John Kovash and I, the right to call a meeting to review the problematic hotel decision. Although the city manager and city attorney tried to discourage us from doing so by claiming, as they did this time, that Charter Chapter IV, Sections 16 and 19 require a quorum of three or more to make decisions during a public meeting. We knew that calling a meeting to conduct a review does not equate to taking action or making a decision during a meeting. They had “overlooked” the wording of Charter Section 13, which permits the mayor or two councilors to call a special meeting if necessary. The two person call up rule safeguarded the right to check for errors in a decision.

Because of CDC 99.280, “de novo” which allowed new information to be accepted rather than closing the record, several serious code violations pointing to threats against human health and safety were discovered. The Fire Marshall’s Office wrote: “The site plan is no better than before-there are several fire code requirements that are still not met that make it difficult to perform fire and rescue work at this site.” “Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue does not endorse this proposal until the following items have been addressed and approved.”

De novo safeguards against approvals based on incomplete information.

Until recently, the historical interpretation of de novo CDC 99.280 (1) states: “The record of the previous application, hearing and decision shall be incorporated and considered as part of the appeal procedure.” meant that applications would be essentially unchanged when reviewed or appealed. That changed when Lake Oswego and Tigard were allowed to bring a completely “new” application forward on appeal despite clear CDC 99.120 limits on changes. For example, an application is required to return to the original hearing body if changes exceed 10 percent or start over if changes exceed 25 percent. CDC 99.330 also limits substantial changes to approved applications. The council allowed the historical meaning of de novo to be twisted in order to let Lake Oswego and Tigard avoid having to go back to the Planning Commission with a new version of their water treatment plant plan.

Reducing the number of land use appeals would be great because they are a burden to everyone involved. But cutting out information, increasing the number to call a review, charging prohibitive fees or shutting citizens and neighborhoods out will not necessarily “encourage positive economic development” as the public meeting notice for code amendments claimed. Restricting the ability to address mistakes is never a good idea.

The City Council ought to start improving West Linn’s land use planning practices rather than shut down essential safeguards. Email City Council at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Teri Cummings is a former West Linn city councilor and planning commissioner.

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