John and Gerry Dennee won a victory Tuesday when The Dalles City Council granted the minor lot partition they had been seeking since 2007 without added development costs.
“I’m very sorry Mr. Dennee (applicant) that you and your wife have been delayed in the process and that you’ve gone through this,” said Councilor Tim McGlothin prior to seconding the motion made by Councilor Dan Spatz to approve the partition.
“We’ve created a Catch-22 here but the person who is getting in an unfortunate position is Mr. Dennee and I don’t think that’s fair,” said Spatz.
“We have too little land and drawing a line on the map should not be an act of development,” said Councilor Bill Dick.
Councilor Linda Miller abstained from voting because she felt Spatz’ motion did not go far enough to address the entirety of the problem. In a follow-up interview, she said many landowners were being adversely affected by the high cost of development in The Dalles and the entire fee structure needed to be reviewed.
Councilor Carolyn Wood was not present at the July 2 special meeting called by Mayor Steve Lawrence.
“We feel that our issue was addressed, but we aren’t done yet because there are plenty of other people out there who still need to be helped out,” said Gerry Dennee in a follow-up interview.
She and her husband will have to prepay $4,656 in property taxes for 2013-14 because they could not move ahead with their partition by July 1 due to the financial requirements imposed by the city.
Lawrence felt decisions made by city staff to interpret the provisions of House Bill 3479 were setting policy, which is the council’s responsibility. He wanted to get feedback from the elected body about how they wanted to proceed with lot partitions in order to comply with the new state law.
“What is the intent of HB 3479? What is the spirit of the law? How can we work to allow partitions to go forward without onerous provisions?” asked Lawrence in a white paper that traced the history of the conflict with the Dennees and other residents that led to intervention from the state.
Dick said he thought the intent of the new law was for The Dalles to no longer “develop neighborhoods based on a partition.”
“What I’m hearing is that we’ve made it worse instead of better,” he said.
HB 3479 was sponsored by Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, and written by Dave Hunnicutt, executive director of Oregonians in Action, a private property rights group. The measure applies only to The Dalles — legislators said partition fees were not as high anywhere else in the state — and was approved by large majorities in both the House and Senate.
Gov. John Kitzhaber signed the bill into law June 18, eliminating the prepayment of $50,000 to more than $152,000 for future development that The Dalles had tied to creation of a new lot. Although original versions of the bill allowed The Dalles to charge a maximum prepayment of $5,000 for development related to partitions, that amount was removed by the final version.
The Dennees asked Lawrence for help after being told by city planners in June that, instead of a prepayment, they had to spend the same amount — $52,000 — to get street work done when the additional lot on their East 10th Street property was created. If they didn’t want to do that, they could opt to enter into a deferred development agreement so the full cost of improvements would be due when a building permit was sought.
Lawrence questioned whether that document was accomplishing the same purpose as the outlawed non-remonstrance agreements. Those agreements, which were eliminated by HB 3479, waived the landowner’s right to oppose formation of a Local Improvement District, which would impose a tax on properties along a specific length of street for infrastructure upgrades.
If they did not want to do either of those things, the Dennees were given the third option of petitioning landowners in the area to form the district. The city has encountered strong citizen opposition due to the high cost of related assessments and for that reason has not formed a residential district for at least 16 years.
“What I was sort of afraid of is that we are meandering down a road without policy decisions of the council,” said Lawrence. “We have to get back to the position of letting people do a simple partition without paying a bundle of money.”
City Manager Nolan Young said he, City Attorney Gene Parker and Planning Director Dick Gassman had followed the provisions of the city’s land-use code in regard to the Dennee application that had not been nullified by HB 3479. He said the code required that financial arrangements be made for infrastructure improvements when residential in-fill development took place.
“We felt it [the decision regarding Dennee’s application] was the only option we had available,” he said.
Parker warned the council against moving forward with the approval of the Dennee’s partition until the land-use ordinance had been amended. The city council is set to start that process by holding a joint meeting with the planning commission on July 18.
“The concern I’ve got is if the council takes the position of approving a partition that does not comply with the requirements is that it could be legally challenged,” said Parker.
“Except that we’ve gotten ourselves into no man’s land,” countered Lawrence. “It seems to me the only person subjected to that ‘never-never land’ is Mr. Dennee.”
Lawrence also questioned the opinion given to Randy Hager, another East 10th Street landowner, by Dick Gassman, city planning director, in June. Hager was told that he was still facing an $80,000 prepayment for future development for a partition because he lived in the urban growth area.
That area lies just outside the city limits and, therefore, is not covered by the provisions of HB 3479, according to Gassman.
Lawrence provided an overview of the history behind the controversial issues of infill development and said there are many points of confusion about how things have played out over the years. He told the council that the joint meeting would provide a clearer picture of what had gone wrong with the city’s attempt to address landowner complaints since 2006.