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Florida-based Lennar and Washington-based Holt Group are a couple of the largest homebuilders nationally coming into the Clackamas County area.

Appeals courts dealt two blows last month to local citizens who have been trying to save neighborhoods and trees from the encroachment of housing subdivisions.

FILE PHOTO - Jennings Lodge former evangelical education building and Fiesen Chapel are slated for removal, along with most of the hundreds of old-growth trees on the site.Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals has denied a citizen group’s attempt to block development of 600 houses on the top of Scouters Mountain in Happy Valley. The city approved the development in February.

Meanwhile, the Oregon Court of Appeals sided with LUBA in saying that the 2015 zone-change denial of a 72-home Jennings Lodge development will have to go back to Clackamas County, a decision that will limit the ability of a hearings officer deny the development again.

Florida-based Lennar and Washington-based Holt Group are a couple of the largest homebuilders nationally coming into the Clackamas County area.

Happy Valley

Holt was able to defend itself against a LUBA appeal brief filed by attorney Sean Malone on behalf of Annette Talbott and Jim Jordan of Happy Valley. Malone pointed to Happy Valley’s Policy 28 meant to “conserve” wildlife areas and used expert testimony to say that more analysis was needed to determine how the development would affect wildlife and endangered species.

CITY OF HAPPY VALLEY - Scouter's Mountain developers of 600 houses in Happy Valley submitted this 'Preliminary Wildlife Circulation Plan' map to the city in November 2015.“My professional experience and my familiarity with the scientific literature concerning the impacts of residential development on wildlife population leads me to believe that 600 additional homes on Scouters Mountain will have a severe, negative impact on wildlife diversity at the site,” wrote consulting ecologist David Vesely to city councilors. “The connectivity of forested habitat is already very tenuous across this landscape and additional residential development is likely to result in further forest fragmentation.”

LUBA agreed with the developer that city councilors found that nothing in the language of Policy 28 or any other Happy Valley comprehensive plan policy requiring maintenance of continuous wildlife corridors.

Citizens were surprised and disappointed that LUBA affirmed the decision of the city. They didn’t appeal LUBA’s decision by the Aug. 30 deadline to the Oregon Court of Appeals, because the appeals court has a record of agreeing with LUBA 80 percent of time. If they lost, the citizens may have had to pay the developer's attorney fees.

“The LUBA decision was a superficial analysis of the issues and contained errors of fact and law,” Jordan said. “LUBA deferred to the judgment of the city even though it was mistaken, and was biased in favor of development contrary to the public interest. Our efforts to change Happy Valley's broken land development approval process will continue."

Jennings Lodge

Based on Clackamas County’s Comprehensive Plan, the county hearings officer denied the application for a zoning change from 62 to 72 lots at the former Jennings Lodge evangelical retreat center.

Oregon Court of Appeals judges agreed with LUBA’s determination that the hearings officer erred in discounting the relevance of two of the rezoning standards and giving primacy to another rezoning standard citing the “need for neighborhood preservation and variety.” The county’s comprehensive plan says, “Areas that have historically developed on large lots where little vacant land exists should remain zoned consistent with the existing development pattern.”

In deciding whether to grant Lennar the zone-change request, the hearings officer will have to weigh Jenning Lodge’s historically large lots equally with the availability of mass transit and proximity of jobs/shopping along McLoughlin Boulevard.

Kris Balle, speaking on behalf of the Friends of Jennings Lodge, said the group was grateful to all who donated to its legal fund. Balle expressed hope that Clackamas County’s hearing officer will reach the same conclusion, even when he is forced to consider various factors equally.

“While we are disappointed that the court did not rule in our favor, the court's opinion did clarify the county's obligation on remand — it is not a simple counting exercise among each of the factors in the county's policy,” Balle said “We will continue to work on the best possible outcome for the retreat center.”

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