A proposal by local landowner Don Nordin to redesignate property located on and adjacent to 1142 Chestnut Avenue suffered a second rejection during Monday’s (Jan. 10) city council meeting.
The Cottage Grove Planning Commission had previously voted against recommending the proposal to council during its Nov. 17 meeting despite it meeting criteria as determined by city staff. The commission reached its decision largely due to determining that a zone change was not necessary to achieve the desired goal of the development site and could be done through a conditional use permit process.
The proposal seeks to amend the land from Low Density Residential to Medium Density Residential to allow the properties to be developed for a mix of medium density residential and commercial uses, and would rezone the property to RC (Residential Commercial).
Nordin’s vision for the properties involves creating both affordable housing and entrepreneurial opportunities in the community with cottage clusters and business “incubators”.
At both the planning commission and the city council meeting, the main sticking point for many was not the development per se, but the zone change.
Several community members have given testimony or submitted letters for and against the proposal at both meetings.
During the city council’s public hearing on the item on Monday, community member Bruce Kelsh encouraged the council to consider the benefits of the project, especially as Cottage Grove is in need of both additional housing and economic development.
“Given that, I think you can address two issues at once,” he said, adding that the city can adapt to the plan as it progresses. “You can find a good middle ground and move the project forward and move the city forward.”
Nordin himself spoke to the council to explain his plan. He told of his own history in South Lane extending back to 1974 when he came to area to build a new community at Cerro Gordo, currently a collection of residents organized as a cooperative resting above Dorena Lake.
Though he admitted that the project had “limited success” in respect to its initial vision, he pointed out that some of the plan’s basic elements still find relevance today, namely the need to address patterns of housing development.
He described his Chestnut Avenue project as experimenting with half a dozen concepts, including solar-powered housing and shared transportation.
Nordin also briefly explained the need for a change to RC to encourage small-scale entrepreneurial development for those outside the property.
Nordin ran out his time in the public hearing before describing his plan for the property in detail, but he had presented his vision to the planning commission at its Nov. 17 meeting.
“In response to a community need for more affordable housing and at the direction of HB 2001 from our legislature to address the need for ‘middle housing’,” he told the commission he sought the zone change to RC “to allow for a phased construction of a duplex and cottage cluster with an associated opportunity space, utility shed, and great room.”
The plan includes space for “perhaps 12 or 14 individuals” rather than housing just the land’s current single occupant, he said.
Using a co-housing model, Nordin proposes encouraging an ownership stake in the property with holders given the ability to sell that stake.
The plan also proposes construction with a net-zero energy approach, construction of an open shared space with a courtyard and garden, and collectively-owned vehicles for the residents.
“It is my hope that this project could provide a model or pilot for similar living units with consideration of the demands for energy, materials and greenhouse emissions that I feel is imperative to respond to the societal need for affordable housing without imperiling the natural environment for the future generations … on our planet,” stated Nordin’s submission.
Nordin further explained to the planning commission that he wanted the RC designation to allow him “flexibility”. An entrepreneur himself, Nordin proposed that such zoning would allow for space on the land for himself or people to run small business ventures.
“I would want to maintain that possibility of keeping commercial activity there, not to draw people from outside of the area to that spot, but for small-scale manufacturing, warehousing, or an incubator space or developing,” he said.
Nordin also said he was disappointed with nearby construction projects on Sunrise Ridge, which seem to use up a lot of energy but yield little in the way of housing.
“I’m trying to provide a model of another kind of development that would be a little more intense with human habitation and less energy consumption,” he said.
At the planning commission meeting, several members of the public testified for and against the idea at that meeting as well.
Comments critical of Nordin’s application focused on concerns about increased traffic, degradation of historical buildings and the worry that a future owner of the land would overly commercialize the land outside of Nordin’s proposed vision.
Those in favor pointed to the potential economic benefit of supporting small business owners.
Nordin responded to the community comments at the time, saying he was willing to accept an R2 zone change if the commission and community felt the commercial aspect was detrimental to or unnecessary for the neighborhood.
At the Jan. 10 city council meeting public hearing, neighborhood resident Lawrence Lannen said he was concerned mainly with the commercial zoning.
“Who might get a hold of that property in two years from now, five years from now? And what might happen to that property once zoned commercial?” he asked.
He pointed out that the planning commission, in discussing the proposal in November, determined that Nordin could proceed with his development without the commercial designation.
Lannen repeated previously stated concerns about traffic and property value as well.
Resident Laura Lannen read from a letter she and Lawrence Lannen had submitted which expressed similar reservations, including a desire to retain the historic charm of the neighborhood.
Extemporaneously, she added, “I love Don’s idea. I just don’t think it’s appropriate for our neighborhood.”
Councilor Mike Fleck said he was empathetic to desire for people to protect their homes, but also pointed out that city staff had determined the proposal met the standards of the city’s code.
“The thing of it is, if this was a land use item, we would not be having this conversation at all,” he said. “Land use in Oregon is supposed to be clear and objective. And city staff went through and looked through all of our ordinances and asked: ‘Did the applicant meet all of the standards in our code?’ They believe he did. … And so the problem is, I think the planning commission hit the nail on the head: the RC zone I think is the question mark.”
Fleck stated that he was conflicted coming into the meeting, but was leaning toward accepting the proposal.
“If I’m going to be a good leader, I have to look at the needs of the community and I have to be able to adapt. And I guess that’s what I’m asking everybody here to do as well, is that we do need to do this,” he said. “I believe that, as staff stated, this is in line with what our code says and the intent of our building needs analysis. And so, I will be supporting this.”
Councilor Chalice Savage said she was confused as to why there was a discussion around rezoning when the development could proceed without it.
“The development I think, would be a really positive impact for our community,” she said. “We need housing. We need it so desperately. And that can happen with the current zoning.”
Mayor Jeff Gowing stated he did not want to undermine the planning commission and said he would not support the zone change, though he, like others, supported the idea of the development.
Councilor Greg Ervin asked staff for edification on the conditional use permit for this development.
City Planner Eric Mongan provided examples of commercial units which could be used in an R1 zone under a conditional use permit, such as offices, retail space or a corner market. The commercial enterprises are limited to 2,000 square feet and would be subject to neighborhood meetings and planning commission review.
Councilor Fleck motioned to adopt the motion and Councilor Kenneth Roberts seconded.
Councilor Ervin said he would vote against the proposal based on his desire to preserve Cottage Grove’s desirable elements.
Councilor Jon Stinnett said he was torn on the issue because of Cottage Grove’s need for housing.
“I certainly don’t doubt Mr. Nordin’s intention with the property and his good intentions for the neighborhood,” he said, but was inclined to defer to the expertise of the planning commission and the concerns of neighbors.
All but Councilor Fleck voted against the motion.
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