County Ordinance may affect more than future of Fire Station 68
by Virginia Bruce
Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue (TVF&R) purchased a two-acre lot at the intersection of NW Thompson and Evergreen in 2010 so they could build a new facility for Oak Hills Station 68. The station is currently located in a former single-family home in the Bethany area. During a neighborhood meeting in October 2010, neighbors expressed concerns about how fire trucks responding to emergencies would negotiate the narrow road, especially during drop-off and pickup times at Findley School, which is just east of the proposed location.
Questions were also raised about how a full-sized fire station could meet the strict Community Development Code requirements for locating a public building within a residential neighborhood. TVFR representatives emphasized that fire stations make good neighbors.
The application for Fire Station 68 was processed through a Type III procedure with the public hearing in July 2011 and the hearings officer’s decision in August 2011.
Vijay Sarathy, who lives near the proposed site, filed an appeal to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA), with the support of many neighbors and others in the community. Because of the appeal, work on the site was suspended last September.
LUBA could either deny the appeal, reverse the county’s decision, or remand the decision back to the county to clarify the code. LUBA remanded the decision to the county in November 2011. TVF&R appealed the LUBA decision to Court of Appeals. Court of Appeals returned an “AWOP” (Affirmed Without Opinion) decision.
There were two bases for Sarathy’s appeal. One deals with an assumption that the station would generate no more traffic than a new residential development on the property. Current zoning would allow 12 homes. But Sarathy said that the language of the county Community Development Code (CDC) applies to a single home on the site. LUBA agreed.
The second basis for appeal is that the CDC only allows “satellite” public facilities in residential neighborhoods. Even Fire Chief Michael Duyck has said that TVF&R no longer uses that designation for its facilities. It refers to a time when neighborhood stations were equipped with “mini-pumpers” that fit into small residential garages. A new pole-barn garage was constructed at the current Bethany location to accommodate the full-size fire trucks which are exclusively used now.
LUBA told Washington County that its standards were ambiguous. TVF&R requested a code amendment to address the issues.
The county has responded by filing Ordinance 754 on July 6, 2012. A fact sheet issued by the county states: “Upon review of the LUBA decision and TVF&R’s request, county staff determined that because other properties could potentially be affected by changes to the CDC public building standards, a legislative amendment process would be the most appropriate mechanism for addressing these issues. In June 2012, staff presented an issue paper and discussed several options with the Board in a work session.” (See the county website for the full text and associated documents.)
Ordinance 754 removes provisions relating to satellite buildings. It also adds new provisions designed to “ensure compatibility with neighboring uses.” The ordinance will be reviewed during public hearings before the Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners in August and September. See the Fact Sheet linked from the website for information on how citizens can participate in the decision-making process.
Those who have studied it are concerned that Ordinance 754 may be creating more problems than it solves. Because of the broad definition of “Public Building,*”it might lead to development applications to site clinics, offices, or other facilities in new buildings or in converted residences within existing neighborhoods.
Andrew Stamp, a Land Use Planning Attorney, reviewed the proposed ordinance for Sarathy. He cites language that is too vague to protect both the compatibility with the existing neighborhood (“reasonably compatible”) and the adequacy of services—roads, sewer, etc—available for the new development. They fear that it will give county planners too much leeway in approving uses that will harm neighbors.
“The proposed standards give staff virtual carte blanche to approve any application they are presented with. Furthermore, if neighbors file appeals with the state, LUBA will virtually always affirm the local government’s approval when these types of standards are at issue.”
“For example, the proposed phrase “adequate area to meet the needs of the proposed use” provides virtually no enforceable standard. Obviously, if the applicant did not think the site met its needs, it would not propose locating its public building at that location.”
This certainly would seem to dilute the meaning of residential zoning. If you buy a house in a residential neighborhood, you might reasonably expect that to mean that you won’t end up next door to an art gallery. We hope that Ordinance 754’s language is tightened up before passage to protect the quality of our lives.
If Ordinance 754 is adopted (as written or with changes), TVF&R will need to submit a new application to the county for Station 68, to comply with the new ordinance. They say that if an approval is granted, the earliest construction would begin is January, 2014 (although they have done some minor grading to the site this summer).
Few would argue that a new facility for our valued firefighters is a bad idea. It’s regrettable that TVF&R chose such a problematic location when other choices were available.
*Definition of Public Building in draft Ordinance 754: Any building held, used, or controlled exclusively for public purposes by any department or branch of government (Federal, State, county, municipal or special district) and private, nonprofit agency serving the public, including such uses as Art Gallery, Auditorium, Community Building, Governmental Services Structures, Library, and Museum