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Commission recommends county land use changes

The Dalles Planning Commission recommended approval Thursday, Oct. 3, of new land use rules designed to end the practice of charging for public streets and sidewalks — sometimes as much as $150,000 — when residential land is divided into smaller lots, or requiring a commitment to pay in the future.

The move was the first step toward bringing city land use rules into compliance with a new state law, HB3479, passed as a result of The Dalles citizen complaints about city practices.

“We really are trying,” said Bruce Lavier, chairman of the commission.

The changes deal only with adjustments necessary to comply with the new law, said Dick Gassman, director of city planning and community development. Once these changes are implemented, the city will move forward with a larger discussion on its land use rules, required public improvements and any barriers these may present to economic development.

Acting before a three-quarters full audience, the four commission members present unanimously agreed to send city land use development ordinance changes to The Dalles City Council with a recommendation to approve them with all speed.

The panel, which included Lavier, Rob Raschio, Dennis Whitehouse and Jeff Stiles, also agreed to send the changes forward with a recommendation that Wasco County approve the changes, so land use law within the city’s urban growth boundary is consistent with law inside the city limits.

The city administers land use on behalf of the county within the urban growth boundary, so the county’s approval is required, Gassman said. “We don’t want the law to be different in the urban growth boundary,” Gassman said.

Many of the land owners who have been trying to see city law on the subject changed for the past seven years were present for the public hearing and decision Thursday.

Former Mayor Jim Wilcox spoke first, noting confusion about the law and its references to other city ordinances that seemed to contradict the changes required to bring the city into compliance with state law. Wilcox said his council was part of the discussions on this issue and he still found it confusing and hard to track.

“If I have to call the city clerk and the city clerk can only find the reference because she sort of remembers where it’s at, then we’ve got a problem with the ordinance,” Wilcox said.

The cross references within the rules also raised concerns from attorney Dave Hunnicut, author of HB 3479. Local land owner Randy Hager read into the record an email of Hunnicut’s analysis of what the changes do. The email suggested that the cross references made conflicting statements that would leave land owners still liable for the cost of public improvements at the time of partition.

After reading Hunnicut’s analysis, Gasman explained that the sections Hunnicut quoted on public improvements do not apply the residential partitions governed by HB 3479. Nonresidential land is not governed by the new law, he said.

“There is not a cross reference from minor [residential] partitions to public improvements,” Gassman said. The provisions Hunnicut cited apply to subdivisions and nonresidential land.

Land owners talked about the challenges under existing land use rules.

“Government does not come to residents and say, ‘You’re going to form an LID,’” said Steve Kelsey, who lives outside the city but argued that city rules can affect residents in surrounding areas.

Hager talked of losing buyers for his proposed three parcels in the urban growth boundary of east The Dalles, noting some backed away as a result of the high liability for future public improvement costs. Hager said city promises that he would not be required to pay up front or promise to pay for public improvements at partition dating back to 2002 and 2003 were not honored.

The Dalles City Council will take up planning commission recommendations and hold a public hearing on the subject at a future meeting this fall. If the proposed changes are passed bringing the city into compliance with state law, that will clear the way for a broader discussion of land use and barriers to economic development, Gassman said.

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