WARRENTON — A 15-lot subdivision planned near Clear Lake faces a challenge.
Will Caplinger, a former planning manager for Clatsop County, has filed an appeal to the City Commission on behalf of Rod Gramson against the developer, Gramson’s brother and former Warrenton mayor, Gil Gramson. The brothers have battled over land use and development issues before.
In his notice of appeal, Caplinger contends there are a number of issues with the project: potential damage to wetlands the city has deemed “locally significant;” impacts to wildlife on land Rod Gramson sold to the North Coast Land Conservancy; and determinations the Planning Commission made in approving the application that appear to run counter to the city’s own rules and standards.
Property owners at the nearby Smith Lake subdivision have their own concerns if development goes forward at Clear Lake, including possible impacts on drainage. But they were located outside of the city’s required notice area and did not participate in public hearings in front of the Planning Commission.
Representatives of the group met with Kevin Cronin, the city’s community and economic development director, on Monday to discuss their concerns. Cronin does not expect Caplinger’s appeal to reach the City Commission until mid-June, but if commissioners decide to open up a fresh hearing on the matter, the Smith Lake residents could provide testimony, he said.
One of the sticking points in Caplinger’s appeal involves a condition upheld by planning commissioners to require the construction of a secondary access road to Ridge Road for emergency vehicles.
The Clear Lake subdivision would be developed at the end of what is already a long, dead-end road. Previous development along Kalmia Avenue required variances to extend the road. Gil Gramson had to seek a third variance to extend the road even farther to create the new subdivision, as well as a variance to develop in the wetland.
A secondary access road was an important safety measure, planning commissioners argued in April. Cronin suggested commissioners require Gil Gramson to improve an existing gravel road that crosses several other properties. Gramson will need to get agreements from the other property owners to fulfill this condition.
Planning Commissioner Christine Bridgens was the sole vote against the project, concerned primarily about the quality of the proposed access road. Commissioners Paul Mitchell, Ryan Lampi and Mike Moha voted in favor of the project.
The road, even after improvement, would not be up to the city’s standards for new roads, Bridgens contended.
“I don’t see how we can approve something that is substandard, I don’t get that,” she said.
In his appeal, Caplinger noted: “The likelihood of obtaining an easement and building this secondary access road was not explored in the staff report or properly conditioned in the approval, and the continuing unresolved secondary access is materially detrimental to public welfare.”
Improving the road could also impact surrounding wetlands, which are valuable community assets, he argued.
“Allowing a string of subdivisions over locally significant wetlands, when there are other locations available for residential development is neither a reasonable nor an environmentally responsible exercise of due diligence by staff and the Planning Commission,” Caplinger wrote.
Skip Urling, a former city planner, represented Gil Gramson in April and argued that the project will not impact much of the wetlands. He also argued against the requirement to develop the secondary access in full. Given the mix of ownership along the road, the Clear Lake subdivision developers did not want to get stuck building a “road to nowhere,” he said.
Caplinger and Rod Gramson also argued against allowing more variances in an area that has already required variances for past development — a point Lampi and Bridgens noted during the Planning Commission‘s discussion about the project in April.
Caplinger wrote that city code indicates prior variances allowed in a neighborhood should not be considered by city boards like the Planning Commission when making decisions about new projects. But that’s exactly what the Planning Commission and staff did, he wrote.
He and Rod Gramson continue to have concerns about what development in the area could mean for the neighboring property now owned and preserved by the North Coast Land Conservancy. The land conservancy had asked that the developer be required to build a wildlife fence to keep people and dogs out of protected areas.