Leatherwood Cluster Subdivision: Southeast Neighbors Board Requests Denial of Application


From: Kevin Matthews <matthews@artifice.com>
To: KULLBY Kent R<kent.r.kullby@ci.eugene.or.us>

9 April, 2001
Kent Kulby
City of Eugene
Planning Division
99 W. 10th Avenue
Eugene, OR 97401
541-682-5453 vox
541-682-5572 fax

re: Leatherwood Cluster Subdivision
File Number SR 01-7, ST 01-7
North side of North Shasta Loop

Dear Kent,

David Monk and I have reviewed the Leatherwood Cluster Subdivision application, representing Southeast Neighbors and in concert with the sense of the Board of Directors. Our review has included site visits, meetings both with the applicant and city staff, discussion in the neighborhood, and consideration of applicable codes and policies. As a result of this review process, the neighborhood position is that the current Leatherwood application should be denied.

Our primary recommendation, and the position of Southeast Neighbors, is that the property proposed for subdivision has outstanding and irreplaceable values such that it should be protected from development to the maximum extent possible. As a secondary recommendation, if it were to be determined that some development on the site must proceed, the current application proposes avoidable impacts too great to merit approval of the application as it stands.

As per Eugene Code, Section 9.035(4), Subdivision Criteria, paragraph c) states, “The proposed subdivision will be consistent with applicable plans.” For Tax Lot 4100 and its vicinity, the applicable plans include the South Hills Study.

The South Hills Study sets out criteria for preservation of important natural sites. Several of these preservation criteria are met by the proposed subdivision.

RIDGELINE PARK CRITERIA

Following are selected relevant criteria from the Ridgeline Park section of the South Hills Study, shown in bold, with inserted discussion.

…Any areas recommended for preservation or park usage should serve at least one of the following purposes: …

2. To protect areas of high biological value in order to provide for the continued health of native wildlife and vegetation;

Tax Lot 4100 is a high quality natural resource area, specifically listed in the Natural Resources Study draft inventory (Site E37), and qualifying for state Goal Five preservation review. It is currently inhabited by the Pileated Woodpecker, a threatened species observed acoustically during our site visit and by neighbors, by owls, as evidenced by owl pellets at the base of several large trees (including one or more I believe which are marked for removal in the application), and deer, with fresh and copious tracks indicating daily passage. Most of the site is a remarkably stable and mature fir forest, as shown by the open understory and associated native plant species. This site provides a significant and important local refuge for forest species in the midst of surrounding development pressure.

The delineation of wetlands on the site indicates the presence of perennial water. Isolation of the wetlands water source from the rest of the site habitat area by the proposed combination of roadway and building placements would inappropriately decrease the habitat value of the whole site.

Together with separation by graded paving, the proposed coverage of the site with 24% (as per applicant) impervious surfaces would drastically alter the existing runoff and hydrological patterns, with a significant likelihood of indirect impact on the wetland area.

3. To insure the provision of recreational areas in close proximity to major concentration of population;
4. To provide connective trails between major recreational areas;

In addition to their intrinsic biological value, Tax Lots 4100 and 4500, with the same owner, occupy a crucial connecting position astride the only remaining potential alignment for the Ridgeline Trail to connect through the southeast hills, between the current northern terminus of the south trail section near Skyline Park at Spring, and the south terminus of the Hendricks Park section, recently extended south to about 30th Avenue with the Ribbon Trial acquisition. The ridge itself in this area already heavily developed (in dubious compliance with South Hills standards), but a nature trail alignment is still available immediately below the ridgeline mansions. The key position of the proposed site to this trail alignment is diagrammed in Appendix 1.

If the City fails to protect the remaining potential trail corridor, then a substantial population of the southeast hills will not have recreation areas in close proximity. The Joint Parks Committee Report in the South Hills Study specifically notes the North Shasta area as deficient in park facilities (p7).

5. To provide connective passageways for wildlife between important biological preserves;

Tax Lots 4100 and 4500 together play an important connecting role both in the north-south longitudinal habitat corridor, paralleling the contours of the southeast hills, and in the east-west transverse corridor which connects the higher elevations down to the natural water resources of Amazon Creek.

6. To contribute to Eugene’s evergreen forest edge;

Although the proposed development site, at roughly 540′ to 640′, is lower in elevation than the typical green view resource zones of the south hills, it is actually just as close to its adjacent ridgeline as sites further south which are one or two hundred feet higher. With the adjacent ridgeline substantially cleared and built up, the importance of the remaining undeveloped natural areas at mid-elevations is heightened.

DEVELOPMENT STANDARDS

We appreciate that applicant lists the more detailed PUD-related criteria, which the subdivision may not be required to follow. However, applicants assertions notwithstanding, the proposal does not meet those criteria.

Just for example, applicant writes “As the site plan clearly indicate (sic), the highest elevations and steep slopes (sic) have been set aside as commonly owned open space.” Yet building lots are sited at up to 620′ on a site that ranges from about 540′ to about 640′. And building 11 appears to be located on just about the steepest slope anywhere on the property, with building 12 nearly as bad.

The balance of conflicting values between private and public in the design of this subdivision proposal, which attempts maximum density on a site which is fragile and extremely valuable to the public, is simply backwards from the policy statement of the South Hills Study.

Following are selected relevant criteria from the Developments Standards section, shown in bold, with inserted discussion.

That adequate review of both on-site and off-site impact of any development by a qualified engineering geologist occur under any of the following conditions: …

Although Michael Rembolt, P.E., is a licenced engineer, it is not clear that he is a qualified engineering geologist. Also, the application refers to a report in progress by a qualified engineering geologist, which does not seem to be included. In addition, it also appears that recently published information on specific seismic danger zones in South Eugene has not been taken into consideration with regard to this site.

As such, the subdivision application appears to be incomplete.

That developments be reviewed to encourage clustering of open space elements of differing developments in order to preserve the maximum amount of continuous open space.

The development proposal is laudable in using small building footprints and compact massing. However, the effectiveness of the actual clustering of buildings is less than the applicant’s expressed intentions might suggest. In every case, extra amounts of additional space are left between the individual lots. The resulting spaces between buildings are small enough that no trees are preserved between adjacent buildings, yet they large enough in aggregate that units spread out to impact nearly the whole site, with strips of woods left of insufficient depth to provide wildlife cover.

Reports making up the South Hill Study clearly express that the allowable densities are maximums, and that some properties, especially with 20% or greater slopes, like the proposed subdivision, will require additional consideration for protection to meet the overall South Hills Study goals. This rare remaining section of stable native forest is one of those special properties.

Given the special natural resource quality of this site, in accordance with the goals and particulars of the South Hills Study the maximum allowable density should be reduced substantially.

Applicant stated more than once during the site visit that buildings 11 and 12 are not intended to be built, but were included as ‘bargaining chips’. These buildings on the two steepest sites shown should be deleted from the proposal. Applicant also more than once suggested the possibility of linking conservation easements on Tax Lot 4500 with development approval for tax Lot 4100. While this offer failed to become concrete in the current proposal, it does suggest one approach for improving the balance of habitat preservation if a significant portion of Tax Lot 4100 is allowed to develop.

That developments be reviewed in terms of scale, bulk and height to insure that development blends with rather than dominates the natural characteristics of the south hills area.

The proposed “1930’s National Parks style” provides an attractive concept. However, as illustrated by the example building elevations provided, the type is not actually well suited to the steep slopes of the proposed subdivision. It is not clear that the applicant has realized the extent of exposed “stone foundations” that would result from combining lodge styling with the steep slopes of this site.

The proposed medium scale and elaborate style of the buildings, in combination with substantial site engineering investments, and the lack of any apparent construction budgeting or economic analysis, make improbable the suggestion by applicant that these houses will meet low to moderate price standards.

If intensive development of this were actually necessary, it could best be accommodated by concentration of dwellings only on the bottom shelf of the property, currently shown loosely occupied by building 1, 2, 3, and 4. This would develop the least valuable portion of the site in terms of natural resources. With the concomitant elimination of the vast majority of the paving, cuts, and fills, which are required mainly to access buildings currently sited in the steeper upper areas of the site, a total subdivision consisting of perhaps six dwellings all on the lower part of the site could eliminate perhaps three quarters of the natural resource destruction, while still allowing more than half of the applicant’s stated development plans.

Given the low initial purchase cost of the property for the applicant, a scaled back development of as few as three or four dwellings should still be very profitable — particularly as the smaller development would eliminate most of the road construction costs.

That all developments shall be reviewed for potential linkage with or to the Ridgeline Park system.

This element of the specific development criteria emphasizes and highlights the importance of the habitat and recreational connectivity value of this site, as discussed above.

That all developments (planned units developments or subdivisions) be reviewed to insure maximum preservation of existing vegetation.

The current proposal does not meet this standard, due to excessive tree removal. For instance, minor adjustments in the road alignment and expanded spacing between buildings 5 and 6 could save several very significant mature trees. Extensive cuts, fills, and retaining walls (only recently delineated, partly in response to neighborhood requests for clarification), further extend the impacts of buried or cut roots.

While the roadway contours are now convincing as to accuracy, the cuts, fills, retaining walls, outdoor stairs, and other site impacts related to the building footprints shown have not yet been delineated. For buildings 9, 10, 11, and 13 these still undetailed impacts are likely to be especially significant.

Excessive reliance on subjective judgments of tree health, with too much credence given to small health differentials between individuals, seems to have contributed to some significant mismatches between observed site conditions and the applicant’s statement that units are clustered on “less vegetated areas”. The locations of buildings 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 each require the removal of several trees, with the tree impacts of building 5, 6, and 7 being especially marked. Parking and road areas require additional removal of grand trees.

At a minimum, in advance of approval, building foot print locations and roadway alignments should be adjusted to save more trees, and building cuts and fills should be worked out, as previously requested by the neighborhood. Then the impacts on trees need to be reassessed in detail, taking into account all the updated site engineering.

Conclusion

We appreciate and applaud the applicant’s statements of environmental values and positive intentions. However, we do not find these intentions well-represented in the actual subdivision proposal.

On balance, Leatherwood Cluster Subdivision does not meet the necessary criteria in state and local codes and refinement plans for approval of the application.

Respectfully,

Kevin Matthews, President
David Monk, Vice President
Southeast Neighbors

 

Appendix 1

Ridgeline Trail Alignment at Southeast Hills by Matthews and Monk, Shown superimposed on Natural Resources Study map, (LCOG, 6 April, 2001)