A new master plan outlines only part of what will happen to the 23-acre land parcel the city owns off of Millard Road.
The site, now unused and zoned as public lands, will serve as a park for some portion, and councilors and city staff are now examining options for re-zoning the remaining land from Public Lands to something else. Where exactly the line will be drawn separating the public park from the as-yet-to-be-determined zone is up for debate.
The master plan, developed with Portland-based architectural firm Mackenzie, would help in deciding where to draw that line, according to St. Helens City Planner Jacob Graichen, who explained during the June 5 city council work session, that the decision of what to re-zone the remaining portion of the site depends on other factors.
According to Graichen, the city has been reviewing options for the entire property for at least a year, dating back to a city-held public forum to determine zoning options for the property in June of 2018. Before then, ownership of the property had changed hands multiple times.
The top portion of the property was owned by St. Helens School District for decades, as part of wetland mitigation. The city has owned that portion since 2009, but Graichen said it will be difficult to impact the wetlands because of their significance as mitigation wetlands.
The bottom third of the property was once owned by Columbia Heath District, a former tax district that was formed in November of 2004 to build a hospital. The project was not successful, and the district disbanded in 2010. The parcel was passed to Columbia County and then eventually back to the city.
Graichen said that the failure of the tax district and subsequent passing from one public entity to another has made the parcel a bit of a “hot potato.”
“It has a tumultuous history for tax payers,” Graichen said.
The controversy surrounding the property inspired last year’s public forum. Graichen said the goals of the forum were to figure out zoning and hear surrounding neighbors’ thoughts. The minutes for the 2018 public forum indicate that three residents supported mixed-use zoning of the land, and three residents supported R10 zoning, which is suburban residential. An additional resident said he supports use of the land for public benefit, but not for a housing development.
Another zoning factor, Graichen said, is the city’s recently completed Housing Needs Analysis (HNA). The HNA revealed that over the next 20 years, the city will have a surplus of low-density and medium-density lands, but a deficit in high-density lands.
Graichen said he did not support R10 zoning as a city planner.
“It would be shameful for us to go with R10,” Graichen said, stating there is already-sufficient R10 zoned land in the city, and the city utilities near Millard Road would be able supply a higher-density development with its water and sewer needs. He also cited the Economic Opportunities Analysis, completed in 2009, which showed a deficit in commercial property in the city, which more mixed-use zoned land would address.
Graichen’s official recommendation for the remaining portion of the Millard Road would be either mixed-use or R7, moderate residential, which allows for higher density development.
No final decisions will be made until the city conducts another public hearing, which is required whenever zone changes are made.
“We don’t want people to think we’re making up our minds now,” Graichen said. “When we get to that point, we propose either mixed use or R7.”
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