The City Council voted unanimously and without discussion at last week's meeting to hear an appeal filed by the Truth in Site Coalition opposing the OSU-Cascades site plan application approved by a hearings officer in early September.
While city staff typically discourage council from hearing land use appeals—preferring to send them on to the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA)—they recommended council hear the appeal in this case because of its broad community impact.
"Most cases are projects that don't have significant community wide issues," said Aaron Henson, a senior planner for the City. "There are several reasons why we think [this appeal] would be appropriate."
Specifically, he explained, the site plan's transportation impacts and the potential need for master planning make the appeal relevant to the community at large.
The Truth in Site Coalition opposition group first publicized its opposition to OSU-Cascades' planned expansion onto a 10-acre site in Southwest Bend—and the university's interest in developing a larger site on property it does not currently own—back in April. It filed a formal objection which prompted a two-day land use hearing in June. Though Deschutes County Hearings Officer Ken Helm found that the university's site plan met all the relevant code, he conceded that Truth in Site's concerns were not unfounded.
"When a larger project, here a concept for a 50 acre-plus campus, has been discussed for years and would appear ideally suited for a master planning process, OSU's approach comes very close to thwarting sound planning and the very purpose of the City's master planning provisions," Helm wrote in his Sept. 2 decision. "OSU could easily have requested that 4-R Equipment, LLC allow for the conceptual master planning of its 46 acre property, which would not be binding in the future if the current purchase and sales agreement falls through. However, there is no evidence that the applicant made such an effort. Thus, it is understandable that the opponents of this application view the 'ownership' issue as a superficial and convenient excuse to avoid the master planning process."
In an announcement posted on its website, Truth In Site seemed to be taking Helm's words as encouragement.
"Mr. Helm did more than pay lip-service to the Coalition's arguments. He identified his limitations in interpreting the city's Development Code and we are heartened by his apparent encouragement to the City Council to look at our argument for Master Planning," the coalition wrote in a Sept. 5 statement. "Therefore, the Coalition has decided to appeal the decision."
Preparing for the appeal hearing will require some hustle by city staff, particularly given the short time frame. By law, City Council must issue a decision on the appeal within 120 days of the June 12 hearing, which gives the Council until Oct. 20 to issue final findings.
"What we struggled with most as staff is timing," Hensen said. In anticipation of an affirmative vote from Council, City staff prepared to send out the required notices to all the parties who participated in the hearings process, which must be sent out within 10 days. "We have a box full of envelopes ready to stuff with hearing notices."
City Council has scheduled the hearing for noon on Sept. 29, the earliest possible date given the notice requirements. Written testimony, which may be submitted only by the parties in the case and anyone who gave statements during the hearings process, is due by 8:30 am that same day. Though Mayor Jim Clinton encouraged those who wish to testify to submit their statements electronically as soon as possible to allow councilors ample time to review them.
"If you really want us to read it," Clinton advised, "please get it to us sooner than [Sept. 29]."
Testimony may not introduce any new evidence and must be limited to the 20 issues outlined in the hearings officer's decision. During the actual hearing, each party will be limited to a 15-minute introductory statement and a 10-minute rebuttal. Council will then take some time to deliberate and likely issue its final decision by the Oct. 15 Council meeting.