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Water Resource Areas
West Linn’s wetlands, streams and the vegetated areas beside them are protected as Water Resource Areas (WRA) by Chapter 32 of the Community Development Code (CDC).
The City Council is considering proposed changes to the CDC, already recommended by the Planning Commission at public hearings, which should better protect WRAs and be less complicated:
- Currently, owners of vacant property within a WRA can only build something that is the “minimum economically viable use” of the land (such as a small 900 square foot house). The proposed term: “reasonable use” would allow uses consistent with other uses and buildings on nearby properties or in that same zone. This will make the code less subjective and provide landowners with greater certainty.
- Currently, the owners of vacant property within a WRA can only develop up to a maximum of 5,000 square feet of “disturbed area” within the WRA. The proposed language will guarantee 5,000 square feet or 30% of the WRA, whichever is greater. Owners of larger lots will benefit from having an allowable “disturbed area” of 30% of the WRA. For a one acre parcel (43,560 square feet) that is totally encumbered by a WRA, a disturbed area of 13,068 square feet would be allowed.
- Currently, the 5,000 square foot “disturbed area” includes “temporarily disturbed areas” such as trenched utilities that are later filled in and re-vegetated. In the proposed language, “temporarily disturbed areas” would not count against the 5,000 square feet or the allowable disturbed area on larger lots.
- Currently, all WRA widths are standardized. An “Alternate Discretionary Review” process will allow property owners to have WRA widths that are appropriate to the specific conditions on their property.
- Reduced WRA widths are proposed for ephemeral streams that only carry water after downpours. These streams are so small that they often do not have a defined channel.
- Currently, the City uses the Public Works Departments Surface Water Management Plan to map and identify WRAs. Consequently, road side ditches that are dry for most of the year have the same level of protection as year-round streams. The proposed language would use the City’s wetland, riparian corridor and stream inventories instead. This will reduce the number of WRA permits that are required and save many homeowners from costly permits.
- Some stream sections are piped underground. Incentives to open up these streams are offered.
- The proposed language includes Metro’s “Habitat Friendly Development Practices”. Property owners can make simple modifications to their development proposals to improve water quality and habitat protection. Incentives to encourage their use will be offered.
- The use of tables, illustrations and definitions better communicates the requirements.
- “Exemptions” from WRA permits will be clarified and increased. For example, accessory structures under 120 square feet will be exempt.
Why Protect Streams and Wetlands?
Streams and wetlands and the associated vegetated areas (riparian areas) provide numerous benefits for people and wildlife:
- Maintaining water quality. Wetlands cleanse water by filtering or settling sediment and absorbing and breaking down excess nutrients and toxic substances. This helps to maintain water quality at levels that will sustain fish and wildlife and that are safe for people to play in. The State of Oregon Land Use Planning Goal 5 and Metro Title 3 also require all cities to adopt land use regulations that protect water resources.
- Flood and Storm mitigation. The vegetated areas around wetlands and streams accommodate and slow down rainfall that might otherwise result in flooding and erosion.
- Wildlife habitat. Wetlands and the surrounding vegetated areas provide a variety of habitats that support birds, mammals, amphibians and fish. Vegetated areas along the edge of wetlands and streams produce trees that eventually fall into the stream where they form pools and provide shelter for rearing fish. The vegetation also shades the water body which helps to maintain water temperatures needed to sustain fish and other aquatic life. The State of Oregon Land Use Planning Goal 5 and Metro Title 13 also require all cities to adopt land use regulations that protect wildlife habitat.
- Recreation. Wetlands and stream corridors provide open space, scenic areas and, in some instances, recreational opportunities such as hiking and wildlife viewing.
Learn More & Comment
Sign below for the Planning Commission’s recommended version of the code amendments. The City Council will hold a public hearing, tentatively scheduled for May 19, 2014.
To share any comments you may have or for more information, please contact the city at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-723-2525.