July 17, 2019 — The Dunes City Planning Commission will be holding a public meeting on Thursday, July 25, at 6 p.m. regarding a planned housing development on Little Woahink Lake.
While the public is welcomed to attend the meeting, public comments will be legally restricted to written comment, which is due to the city by 5 p.m. on Friday, July 19.
The housing project has been part of controversy in Dunes City for years.
“It originally started as a development application in 2003,” said Dunes City Administrator/Recorder Jamie Mills. “The city council kept putting requirements on the gentlemen proposing the property because of the sensitivity of the land and its location. They went at it for years until the city council told him he couldn’t do it.”
The developer filed a case against the city with the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) and won the right to develop the property.
“The city appealed to the circuit court and entered into a settlement that required the city to approve the preliminary plan with specific conditions,” Mills said. “The city was directed to that immediately.”
But the city did not revisit the issue, and the developer at the time went bankrupt because of the years of expenditures and attorney’s fees. When a new developer took over the project, a request for information was made on the property.
“When we investigated, we found that the city failed to comply with the court order and never did it,” Mills said. “On the advice of our attorney, it was brought before this current city council for approval to comply with the court order. They did that. The court order tells what has to happen, and it’s more like a laundry list of actions that have to take place. The city doesn’t have the ability to tell them ‘no,’ other than the documentation that was required by the court. We can require that it be brought up to current standards and codes, but that’s about the only thing we would be able to do.”
The question before the Planning Commission is not whether or not the development can be stopped, but if the development meets code. This is what the members of the Woahink Lake Association want the planning commission to be aware of.
“We just want the development to be within the accordance of what state, county and city codes require,” said Aaron Bowen, who spoke to the association on Saturday during the associations meeting at Honeyman State Park.
Bowen is realistic about the development, believing that the developer has a right to recoup investments.
“I understand him trying to maximize the number of lots, but let’s be diligent that it won’t destroy the environment,” Bowen said.
In a presentation made to the association, Bowen listed a number of points that he believes the Dunes City Planning Commission and the developer should keep in mind.
The largest issue has to do with the water quality of Little Woahink itself, which existing homeowners get their water directly from. Bowen was concerned with runoff from the development site into the lake, particularly during the construction phase. He fears that construction materials, such as glues, diesel, oils and other toxic chemicals such as cement could seep into the lake.
He is also concerned about the required setback of the development, and wants the Planning Commission to ensure that enough space is left between the lake and the development.
After construction, Bowen is concerned with just general runoff from the development.
“It’s going directly into the lake where these people drink water from,” Bowen said. “There are several places in town that are moving runoff into a little settling pond that is allowed to filter into an aquifer. That’s the kind of thing that’s smart about doing runoff.”
The Woahink Lake Association is also concerned about the septic systems the homes would use, stating that the development area is designated as “unsuitable” by Lane County Underground Sewage Land classifications.
Bowen added that the city should require the developer to use alternative treatment technology, such as pumps or filters, to protect the aquifer.
He also called for a conservation strategic plan to protect the wildlife populations in the area, pointing out that the lake has two quality Darlingtonia bogs, native salmon pass over Little Woahink Dam to spawn, beaver exist just downstream and is home to bald eagles, ospreys and blue herons.
“Just please be careful,” Bowen said. “We all love this place for a reason. We don’t want to be another Flint, Mich.”
The Woahink Lake Association is encouraging Dunes City residents to submit written comments to the city. The process for public comments for this issue is different than previous land use issues, a circumstance that arises from the development’s unique legal history.
“There has been some confusion on the process to use, since the whole situation is more than 10 years old and, had the City Council done what it was required to do back then, this would all be a non-issue,” Mills said.
There had been some complaints that the comments were required to be written, and that residents could not voice their concerns directly to the commission during the meeting. Some at the Woahink Lake Association believed the city was attempting to squash public opinions on the matter, which Mills disputed.
“Dunes City Code Section 126.96.36.199 provides for a Type II process for final plat approval,” she said. “A Type II process is an ‘administrative’ process, unlike a Type III process which is a quasi-judicial process. Note that the Type II process simply means that the Planning Commission is the decision maker and it does not require a public hearing.”
She noted that there is a difference between a public hearing and a public meeting. The Planning Commission meeting will be public, open to all, while a public hearing is a formal legal term allowing for public comment during the meeting. In this instance, ORS 197.153 requires “us to send out a notice with the criteria and provide a period for folks to submit written comments,” Mills said. “After the comment period has expired, the Planning Commission meets to make the final decision.”
Generally, a final Planning Commission would be subject to appeal to LUBA if there were objections, but Mills was unclear as to whether or not this particular decision could go to LUBA, since the appeals board had previously made a decision.
However, an appeal could be moot if the Planning Commission is able to satisfy the concerns of residents like Bowen and the needs of the developer.
Written comments are due by Friday, July 19, by 5 p.m., and can be mailed to the Dunes City Planning Secretary at PO Box 97, Westlake, emailed to the Planning Secretary at [email protected], or faxed to 541-997-5751. Comments can also be dropped off at Dunes City Hall itself, including on Friday when the office is closed. In that instance, residents are instructed to slide their comments through the mail slot.