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Student housing plan denied.

Byline: Christian Wihtol The Register-Guard

Georgia-based Landmark Properties has suffered another setback in its bid to win approval to build a 162-unit student apartment complex in the Laurel Hill Valley.

The Eugene Planning Commission, the company's last local stop before heading into the state appeals system, this week roundly and unanimously denied the company's application for The Retreat.

Planning commissioners said the proposed 606-bedroom project at the north end of the valley was too high, too dense, too visible and inadequately screened.

"This development is just out of place," Vice Chairman John Jaworski said during the panel's deliberations. "The magnitude of it is greater than the valley could absorb."

Commissioner Steven Baker agreed. Based on illustrations and other information provided by Landmark, "It seemed to me that it didn't blend in. It was dominant," he said.

The commission vote is the latest strike against Landmark. Previously, city staff recommended against planned unit development approval, and a city hearings official denied PUD approval.

Landmark appealed to the commission.

From there, the company can go to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.

Micheal Reeder, an attorney for Landmark, said the company has not yet decided whether to appeal.

"We think that the city's decision to deny is extremely disappointing," he said.

"At a time when the city of Eugene and the (Eugene) 4J School District both are struggling to find ways to avoid cuts to services, the Landmark project, which is not eligible for tax breaks ... would have generated over $600,000 in property taxes annually."

Under a PUD, a developer can cluster development on a site and preserve open space, and in return can exceed densities, height limits and other restrictions that othewise would apply.

As part of receiving PUD approval, a developer must show that the development would be "reasonably compatible and harmonious" with nearby properties, must have "adequate screening" from them, and "blends with rather than dominates the natural characteristics of the south hills area," under city rules.

The 22 hillside acres in question are designated for low-density residential development by the city. Landmark wants to build 49 apartment buildings of various sizes and heights.

In a low-density residential neighborhood, the city limits building height to 30 feet.

Forty of Landmark's buildings would exceed that, with five exceeding 40 feet, according to Landmark's data. The highest would be 45 feet.

"These buildings would be unusually high to be allowed in an R-1 zone," Baker said during deliberations.

The case illustrates the subjective nature of deciding whether a PUD meets the various criteria.

Reeder had urged the commissioners to base their decision on facts. There is no evidence on the record to show that the project would cause an "unreasonable level of discord or disharmony" with neighbors, Reeder wrote.

A finding of incompatability would need to show, for example, that "a particular building exceeding the height limitation would allow the occupants of the building's upper floors to look down into the bedroom windows of a neighboring residence to such an extent that it invaded their reasonable expectation of privacy," he wrote to the commission.

But no one has offered any such evidence of incompatability, he wrote.

Commissioner Rick Duncan said during the panel's discussion that an issue such as the visual impact of a development is "subjective."

Duncan said that after viewing Landmark's submittals, he believes the project would create a "predominating of rooftops."

Jaworski said the visual prominence of the proposed development is in part due to the exposed, raised terrain it would sit on.

"What hurt this particular applicant is the lay of the land," he said.

Commissioners also pointed out that it is a PUD applicant's burden to show that it complies with city rules.

Neighbors, who have opposed The Retreat, say they wouldn't object if a developer sought to build single-family homes or duplexes on the property in conformance to its zoning.

But Reeder said the land has problems - including overhead powerlines; steep, hilly terrain; and proximity to noisy Interstate 5 - that make single-family development unlikely.

Denying Landmark's project "undermines" Envision Eugene, the city's plan for encouraging infill development of vacant acreage in the city limits, Reeder wrote.

The land is owned by a Redmond family.
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Title Annotation:Eugene; An apartment complex proposed for the Laurel Hill area is turned down by the city planning commission
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 1, 2014
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