Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

DRC decision on Evergreen development

Images are examples of zero lot line homes on 2 lots, and a single home on one skinny lot

The Design Review Commission finished the Public Hearing relating to the Evergreen Neighborhood Association appeal of the permits for 4 zero-lot line homes on 5th St.

The meeting was televised, and I only caught the last portion of the discussion, but enough to know what the issues were that turned the decision to a No vote on the Permit Approval.  If the builder wants to continue with these plans, he will have to appeal the decision to the City Council.   If he does, I am certain the Evergreen Neighborhood Association will be there to object all over again.

The DRC got this one right.  They concluded that the degree of the requested variances was too much for this residential area.  It was not necessarily that there were six variances requested, or that any one was particularly bad, but that all together they did not present a situation where the end product would be "equal to or better than" the existing code.

Several commissioners felt that variances are for minor adjustments to code, like moving a setback a foot or two for a specific reason, not to maximize the volume of a structure by requesting changes to almost all of its dimensions.  The concept of "equal to or better than" is subjective and presents a hole in the codes that builders and staff can drive a truck through - if there is no criteria for what is acceptable.  Is "better than" a function of monetary value, aesthetic design, or neighborhood compatibility?  One commissioner felt this request looked more like a major, not minor development.

  • The builder had argued that the lots presented a good "transition area" between commercial and single family residential areas, but the zoning code did not justify this reasoning.  
  • The Evergreen Neighborhood overlay was considered seriously; one commissioner stated that the Planning Commission and neighborhood residents had worked many hours over many months to finalize the overlay, and they did not want to undo the benefits the citizens and city had worked so hard for. 
  • It was agreed that there were plenty of examples of quality homes that can be built on skinny lots that would not need variances, so need was not an issue. (In fact, a local architect produced examples of  homes that could be built on substandard lots for the Planning Commission to consider last year.)

The Neighborhood Association will have to wait and see what the builder will do next.  It is obvious he put a lot of time and money into the project as is, but he was also encouraged to do so by our Planning Department that did not require him to abide by city codes.  We need clarity on what the Planning Department can and cannot do with the codes - how to interpret them, and when to allow variances - if any are allowed at all.

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