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City hears planning panel street ideas

“This is complicated,” said The Dalles City Councilor Tim M­­cGlothlin about finding an affordable way to pay for street improvements tied to residential development.

Members of the planning commission at the June 30 workshop knew exactly where McGlothlin’s was coming from with what might have been the understatement of the year.

The advisory body has held 15 meetings since November 2013 about standards and finances tied to development of single-family lots. The task given them by the council was to find a way for citizens and the local government to share costs for infrastructure upgrades without creating financial distress.

“Probably the most common theme the planning commission heard was that the cost is too expensive and not equitable with the value of the land,” Dick Gassman, director of the city Community Development and Planning Department, told the council at the late June meeting.

The council agreed with the commission’s recommendation that the city lower development charges for citizens by picking up the bill for engineering work and installation of storm water collection systems.

The commission also appears interested in following Commissioner Chris Zukin’s recommendation that there be more flexibility in street standards. He does not believe that more rural neighborhoods, such as the eastern edge of town, need curbs, sidewalks and storm water drains as much as urban areas with a higher volume of pedestrian traffic.

Zukin also favors having development applications reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine what upgrades make sense financially and what don’t. The city currently has a uniform policy regarding street improvements that does not allow for this type of consideration.

“A lot of what we talked about was being more flexible where it makes sense to be more flexible, such as having sidewalks and parking only on one side of a street instead of two,” Zukin told the council.

He and other members of the commission were directed by the council to come up with a network of streets that prioritizes arterials, streets with higher levels of traffic, that need the most infrastructure. If that list is approved, those roadways would become the focal point of major improvements.

Streets in less travelled neighborhoods might not require the same type of upgrades, which would bring costs down for individuals as well as lowering maintenance expenses for the city.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Councilor Dan Spatz. “I’m looking for a tradeoff here because I think we have some tough economics, so this might be the compromise.”

“That seems to promote fairness,” said McGlothlin.

In another move June 30, the council has decided to do away with waivers of remonstrance tied to single-family home construction, including many that were executed years, and even decades, ago.

It has been the city’s practice to have residents sign these agreement when seeking to develop property in lieu of paying upfront for street improvements.

The waiver takes away the right of the landowner to protest formation of a Local Improvement District to assess street frontage at a later date.

The council felt it was not fair to strip away a landowner’s right to oppose a district that might be formed decades later at much higher cost.

Nolan Young, city manager, said waivers have not been used for the past six or seven years. Instead, planning officials are requiring that deferred development agreements be signed.

These documents obligate landowners to pay for infrastructure upgrades at some point in time, which creates financial certainty for the city.

The council is uncertain about retaining these agreements, which Councilor Linda Miller and Mayor Steve Lawrence have referred to “as a waiver by another name.”

“It’s the same thing, just different language,” said Lawrence at the June 20 meeting.

If the agreements are left in place, Councilor Dan Spatz wanted timelines or criteria that “trigger” payment at an identified point in time.

“How do you keep that equitable? Make sure everyone’s being treated fairly?” he asked.

Several councilors were interested in having the dollar amount owed by landowners for street improvements be capped so they knew exactly what the bill was.

Discussion also took place about having the agreements lapse after a certain amount of time if improvements had not occurred.

It was finally decided to let the commission work out the details for an agreement that will be given consideration by the council sometime this fall.

“We may end up going back and forth a few times to firm things up but we do like some direction,” said Commission Chair Bruce Lavier at the end of the council’s work session.

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