Mar 26, 2006

Maybe We Should Just Flip A Coin

It's true, folks. In the last month or so I've had some doubts about our new 45 foot maximum building height in parts of downtown Troutdale. So did the rest of the Troutdale City Council on February 14. So in response to citizen concerns, we voted to reconsider the issue at a future City Council meeting.

And on March 14, we held another public hearing on the maximum height issue, as well as the 16 foot minimum width issue. Based on testimony from several citizens that night, the City Council settled on a compromise. We decided to allow a 45 foot maximum height on buildings within what is called the "exception area" of Historic Columbia River Highway. But we also decided that those buildings could not be higher than 35 feet as measured from 2nd street.

We agreed to this compromise to address a prime concern of those citizens who testified on March 14- maintaining views for properties uphill from Columbia River Highway.

This Tuesday night, we'll vote on an ordinance that includes the compromise.

Over the last two months, the Troutdale City Council has heard the opinions of our Citizen Advisory Committee, several downtown Troutdale business owners, residents, building contractors, and realtors on the subjects of density, building height and width, and livability issues in downtown Troutdale. What conclusion did I reach after listening to all these points of view? There was no real consensus with our citizens. Opinions were all over the place.

But one point came through loud and clear: Everyone who testified basically advocated their own interests. No surprise there. I would have done the same thing if I had a "dog in the fight".

Property owners above downtown didn't want their views blocked.

Developers pushed for special development code changes and tax credits from the city.

Downtown Troutdale merchants wanted more people living downtown so they'd have more people shopping at their stores.

We heard testimony from a local realtor who happened to live above a proposed downtown Troutdale townhouse development that townhouses on Powell Valley Road in Gresham were valid price comparables to townhouses with views in downtown Troutdale. This realtor also claimed that it was impossible to live in a 16 foot wide townhouse.

We heard potential developers suggesting that tax credits from the city would be a great way to overcome the a-little-too-high price of property they were interested in purchasing and developing.

We were threatened with Measure 37 or LUBA appeals if we did nothing. We were threatened with Measure 37 or LUBA appeals if we changed the development code.

We heard testimony from a property owner that it would be OK if the views were blocked for her neighbors down the street, but not ok if views were blocked in front of her own property.

Do I have doubts about what is in the best interests of Troutdale when it comes to things like minimum height and width standards? You bet I do.

So I have to go back to Troutdale's Town Center Plan. Metro pushed the Town Center Plan on a lot of cities in the region. The Troutdale City Council approved its version in 1998. Troutdale also passed plans for the Central Business District around the same time period.

The plan for downtown Troutdale is for it to be a downtown. Metro's version of downtown. That means high density, taller buildings, more congestion, more people, the entire new urbanism song and dance. That's the plan that's been on the books in Troutdale since 1998.

Instead of complaining about the nuts and bolts of building height and width standards, perhaps the place to direct attention is to the Town Center/Central Business District Plans.

Most folks I've talked to in Troutdale are against Metro's forced high densities. Apparently, so are folks in Portland. That's why they are moving out of Portland and into Troutdale, Gresham, Happy Valley, Sunnyside, Tualatin, Wilsonville, etc etc.

What do we do about it? It's been on my mind for the last two years. What do we do about it? How do cities under Metro's jurisdiction get local land use control back? How can we kick this high density new urbanism land use planning to the curb? When will folks say enough?

16 foot minimum widths and 45 foot maximum heights should be the least of Troutdale's worries. And that's why I have doubts.

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