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Planning group eyes rule changes

The Dalles Planning Commission will take a look Thursday at the first set of changes to the land-use code that will bring it in compliance with a new law regulating minor partitions for residential properties.

“This series of amendments is just to meet the requirements of House Bill 3479,” said Dick Gassman, planning director. “We will be looking at the whole development process in the next review.”

The commission meets at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3 at city hall, 313 Court Street.

There is no longer a fee attached to creation of one or two new lots on a property in the proposed amendments to the land-use, as mandated by HB 3479. Waivers of non-remonstrance for residential applications have also been eliminated and the city council plans to discuss whether they should continue to be required for other types of development at some point in the future.

The city’s longstanding policy has been to require that landowners sign the waiver when seeking approval for some type of construction. By signing, they agree to forego objections on future formation of a local improvement district to assess money to make improvements.

Dave Hunnicutt, a paid lobbyist and executive director of Oregonians in Action, a property rights advocacy group, authored the measure sponsored by Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles. He said the waiver required by the city strips away a landowner’s right to oppose a district that might be formed decades later at a much higher cost.

Huffman became involved in the local controversy in early 2012 after landowners from the east side of town brought their complaints to him out of frustration that seven years had passed a change in the rule.

At that time, residents were asked to pay $50,000 to more than $150,000 for creation of a new lot. The assessment of $351 per linear foot of street frontage was considered the property owner’s fair share of improvements to accommodate increased traffic and population growth caused by development.

The requirement that the fee be paid at the time of sale or within 10 years, was amended in February by the council in an attempt to address complaints.

Instead, landowners were asked to pay the assessment when a partition permit was sought, although that change to the local code was put on hold after the introduction of HB 3479.

Nolan Young, city manager, suggested at a joint commission and council meeting in July that a deferred development agreement be substituted for the waiver if the council chose to eliminate that requirement. He said the development agreement obligated landowners to pay for street improvements at the time construction began, which created financial certainty for the city.

Young’s suggestion met with strong opposition from Mayor Steve Lawrence and a majority of planning commissioners and city councilors.

“A deferred development agreement is a non-remonstrance agreement with another name,” said Lawrence.

Gassman said deferred development agreements are still allowed by the city land use code but that provision is subject to change if that is the council’s will.

Also to be discussed at a later date is the council’s request that staffers and the commission make the new rules for lot partitions also applicable to properties in the urban fringe area that will one day be annexed.

These landowners still have to pay the high fees that were eliminated for residents within the city limits. Because the urban growth area has properties owned by both the city and county, any change in the agreement has to be approved by both entities.

Hunnicutt said at a town hall meeting scheduled by local residents in August that HB 3479 did not specifically address properties just beyond the city limits. He said it had been assumed that these residential parcels would also be subject to the law since they are managed by the city under the agreement with the county.

“If that is the city’s position (to treat them differently), then we’ll go back to the legislature in 2014 or 2015 and say, ‘Here’s the response you got to a bill that passed with super majorities in the House and Senate,” he said.

Lawrence and Councilor Linda Miller also want the commission and council to have a discussion at a future meeting about development fees in general and whether they are impeding economic growth.

Gassman said the response to the new law is being handled separately from the broader issues because, “we felt we needed to try to deal with it as quickly as possible.”

Once this phase of change is finished around November, Gassman expects the city will begin “a much larger discussion about development standards and costs” around the first of the year.

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