Is it natural enough?
As the Villebois neighborhood is nearing completion, developer Polygon Northwest is in the process of building what would be the neighborhood's largest park, the Coffee Lake Natural Area. But a host of neighbors aren't pleased with the park's design, many claiming that they were promised that the space would be left as a nature preserve.
Located on the eastern edge of Villebois, stretching from west of Villebois Drive N at Tooze Road to Barber Street, the proposed Coffee Lake Natural Area extends down from the Metro-owned, 233-acre Coffee Lake Creek Wetlands Natural Area. The area is a part of the Tonquin Geological area formed during the Missoula Floods, giving the park unique geological formations that provide fish and wildlife habitat.
Currently undeveloped, the land is owned by Sparrow Creek, LLC (Polygon), the City of Wilsonville and Metro. The 12-acre park's proposed design has a variety of passive and active features, including a bird watching area with informational signage, gazebos, sports fields, play equipment, shelters and restrooms. Once completed, the neighborhood association of the neighborhood lining the edge of the park will take ownership of the park and be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep. After five years, ownership and responsibility of the park will be transferred to the City.
After discussion and review at the Sept. 11 Development Review Board Panel A meeting, the board approved the Final Development Plan with Preliminary Development Plan Refinements for the park, with a close vote of 3-2, with board members Jennifer Willard and Fred Ruby opposed.
Usually when the DRB reviews an application and approves it, the project application is sent to the City Council for the final approval. But unhappy neighbors, opposed to the extent of the development of the park, decided to appeal the DRB's decision.
However, with a $3,465 appeal fee, neighbors felt that the fee was extreme and sent resident Nik Stice as their representative to the Sept. 18 City Council meeting to ask the council to reconsider the DRB's decision.
"I want to be clear that residents are supportive of the development of the space," Stice said at the Sept. 18 council meeting. "Our preference is that it would be complimentary to Graham Oaks Park with low impact, low maintenance and interpretive trails rather than the active playspace and basketball court that is currently proposed."
Stice requested the council do a "call-up," which is essentially the council initiating an appeal and reevaluating the DRB's decision, rather than the neighborhood appealing since opposed neighbors felt that their feelings weren't fairly considered during the DRB process.
At the July 10 DRB meeting, the park was reviewed for approval during a public hearing. At the hearing, several neighbors gave testimony, some in favor and some against the park development. One of the neighbors with a less favorable view was Stice. With a background in planning, public policy and management, he said that when he purchased his home in Villebois Polygon gave him a residential layout map with proposed housing lots and wetlands areas and that the proposed park was not included in the materials.
Other neighbors, like Lisa Chang, made similar statements and expressed their dissatisfaction with having not been involved in the planning and design process of the
Chang said that she was promised by Polygon the area would remain undeveloped as a protected wildlife area. She went on to say that she wouldn't have purchased her home had she known the area was going to be developed.
Yet three neighbors disputed these claims, saying that they intentionally chose to live in Villebois because of the proposed park and had excitedly been awaiting its creation. Pam Verdadero of Polygon Homes said that while selling homes within Villebois she would tell prospective buyers that there wouldn't be any development in that area, meaning that the area would be left as a park or natural area. She said that she understood how that could have felt misleading but went on to say Polygon would be open to speaking with neighbors about their concerns; although plans for the park were too far along to be changed.
City of Wilsonville Senior Planner Daniel Polly confirmed at the DRB meeting that Regional Parks 7 and 8 were included in Villebois' original master plan, approved in 2003 and met the active and passive features called for in the plan.
In a letter to the City of Wilsonville dated July 10, Dan Robertson, interim director of Metro Parks and Nature, wrote that Metro is looking forward to being a part of the park's development. Robertson said the proposed wetlands overlook and interpretive signage proposed to be built on a half-acre section of Metro's 35 acres bordering Villebois is in line with Metro's mission to preserve wildlife habitat and water quality while offering "appropriate" community access to nature.
After the council heard Stice's request for a call-up Sept. 18, the council acknowledged that the DRB's approval of the design "was a very contentious decision," but debated the use of a call-up.
By City Manager Brian Cosgrove's math, the cost would be about $141 per household of the 20-something neighbors that are unhappy with the design plans if the neighborhood were to appeal. Although the fee could have been waived, the council wasn't comfortable establishing a precedent for waiving fees and engaging in call-ups.
"Once you go down that road, it's hard to say no in the future, and there's good reason to say, 'no' on both of those," Cosgrove said, adding that the call-up option was better than waiving the fee.
After a lengthy discussion, Council President Scott Starr made a motion for a call-up to be initiated. There was no second and the council decided that they didn't have enough information on the topic from both sides, declining to grant a call-up and recommending the traditional appeal process.