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North Albany residents packed the Albany City Council chambers Wednesday night to oppose an appeal of a zone change denial from Portland developing firm Winprop I, LLC. The firm is hoping to build an apartment complex off Hickory Street in North Albany.

The proposal, which the planning commission denied on April 3, would have switched the zone on the property from residential medium density to mixed-use commercial. Under the current zoning, the property owner still could build more than 300 apartments, but developer James Winkler said the request for the change would give his firm some latitude to include a daycare facility or other commercial amenities.

The April 3 denial came as a surprise to city planning staff and to the delight of the consortium of North Albany residents who felt the proposed development would only make traffic issues worse and put a strain on existing services, such as water and power, school, police and fire. 

in his appeal letter, Winkler argued the commission misapplied the review criteria regarding such zone changes. But a clutch of letters, as well as a petition asking the commission to refuse the appeal, paint a picture of residents who feel the proposed development threatens the harmony and quality of life in the neighborhood.

"We are once again appealing to you that hold the future of our North Albany neighborhood and quality of life in your hands," wrote residents Bob and Patti Houser in a letter addressed to the council and Mayor Sharon Konopa.

"I am alarmed that an out-of-town developer proposes to change our North Albany community," wrote resident Claudia Painter.

Winkler, appearing in person at the meeting, asked to be able to come back in 90 days to give his presentation, citing a fire in Portland that closed down a large part of downtown and prohibited his architect from showing up for the presentation.

The request for a continuance brought scoffs from the crowd, while he made his case for the project.

"I keep hearing about low income housing," said Winkler. "Our firm is a big provider of affordable housing, which is defined as 60 percent of the mean annual income in your city code."

Winkler said the concerns from residents amount to a misplaced fear. He said his firm wants to build a combination senior living facility and "workforce housing" that would enhance the quality of life in the community.

"We didn't come here asking for anything more than what is consistent with your city goals," he said. 

What remained a concern, however, is the amount of traffic the development would create, as well as questions over whether a mixed-use commercial zone would be compatible with the medium-density residential zone that surrounds it.

“Between that and the traffic issues, none of us were comfortable with it,” said Larry Tomlin, Planning Commission chairman at the April 4 commission meeting.

In an attempt to assuage fears about traffic levels, planning staff proposed a "trip cap," or an estimated maximum for vehicle traffic coming and going from the development, of 192 per day. Planning manager Bob Richardson said the cap could be an alternative to an expensive upgrade of the road system to accommodate the traffic increase.

But councilor Rich Kellum questioned the concept. 

"How do you enforce it?" he asked.

Fellow councilor Bill Coburn also questioned the trip cap.

"So it really doesn't have to do with the number of cars," he said.

 Konopa said the last time a trip cap was used was when Walmart was built.

"It's very hard in the future to try to hold that view as far as the trip cap," she said. "I've just never been keen about a trip cap."

While some have expressed concerns that such apartments could introduce more crime to the neighborhood, Albany Police Captain Jeff Hinrichs remarked the only concern from a law enforcement perspective was the traffic.

The council will hear Winkler's presentation, complete with conceptual drawing from his architect, within the next 90 days.

Contact reporter Neil Zawicki at 541-812-6099 or neil.zawicki@lee.net

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