Think of Me Hill rezone passes first hurdle

Despite vocal opposition by some of close to 40 citizens present, the Aberdeen Planning Commission recommended at its meeting Thursday night that the City Council approve the rezone of 74 acres atop Think of Me Hill from single-family to multi-family residences.

Concerns were raised about property values going down, safety, extra traffic, widening of the steep and winding Pioneer Boulevard and whether property that may have encroached on the city’s legal right of way will be affected. Worries were also expressed that proposed development will be stalled for a second time.

No member of the public spoke in favor of the rezone. The staff case in favor of rezoning was presented by Community Development Director Lisa Scott. Developer Ed Christensen, who applied for the rezone and earlier attempted to build the Lake View Terrace development on the property, also spoke in favor.

Prior land clearing for the development of single family homes was ceased in 2008 mainly due to loss of financing, Christensen told the commission. He drove up from Portland to support Aberdeen Landing LLC’s bid for the rezone and take questions at the meeting.

He emphasized the need for the rezone that now includes an apartment complex, which an economic analysis he commissioned deemed necessary to make the development financially feasible.

The rezone is “critical to financing,” which Christensen claimed has been arranged pending formal approval. He plans to finance it through a Real Estate Investment Trust, rather than through banks. A REIT is a security that is sold like a stock and invests in property.

The proposed development alleviates what Scott deems a critical need for multi-family housing in the city. The revamped proposal now features one-bedroom as well as two- and three-bedroom apartments in a condo-like structure, a bit more “down market” than Westport by the Sea, Christensen said.

The proposed use allows “for construction of 84 single-family and 325 multi-family residential units for a total of 409 units on the 74.22 acres,” the staff reports says. Allowable density is seven units per acre and the proposed use would only be 5.52 units per acre, it notes.

The commission listened to the public and asked many questions of Scott and Christensen, who is also a civil engineer. Ultimately, it came down to whether the application complies with criteria for rezoning in Aberdeen. The commission decided it did after a two-hour meeting.

There was no legal reason to oppose it, Planning Commission member Randy Ross said afterward. He and others pointed out that Christensen will have to spend a lot on all the mandated improvements required by the city when the project was originally approved in 2007.

Commission Chairman Brian Little kept laser focus on whether the request for the rezone complied rather than on concerns about whether the developer will succeed. Commission member John Martinsen requested more information about Christensen’s past projects, which he will research, he said.

The first vote unanimously approved the city’s staff report recommending to rezone the area with the quorum of Little, Ross, Elaine Redner, Jamie Judkins, Monika Kuhnau and Martinsen all voting yes. The commission is down one member.

That approval was accompanied by a commission suggestion that transit stops and street lights be considered for inclusion in the project.

Martinsen was the lone dissenter on a second vote approving and forwarding the recommendation to Aberdeen City Council for a public hearing where sworn testimony will be taken.

Only one of several council members who attended violated a request by City Attorney Eric Nelson to stay impartial since they will act as judges in the quasi-judicial hearing.

South Aberdeen Councilman James Cook, who also owns property on top of Think of Me Hill, vowed to recuse himself from voting on the rezone and lambasted the project at the meeting. “I am adamantly opposed to this plan of rezoning … it will have a detrimental affect on the value of my property,” he said.

It has been many years and “so far Mr. Christensen has not followed through,” he said. Cook tried to interject questions about the developer’s credibility later and was warned by Little to behave with “decorum and respect.”

Ed Antich of Pearson Street echoed sentiments expressed in three opposing letters read into the record by Scott. He worried about whether the boulevard and the Young Street Bridge would be able to handle the heavy construction traffic.

Jeff Baker, also of Pearson Street, called the project “a bad flashback” to 2007. He criticized six and a half years of constant erosion and called the clearing from the first development attempt an “eyesore.”

Erosion and culverts were on the mind of Bob Landstrom of Clinton Way. Christensen was fined by the Department of Ecology for erosion and runoff issues with the property, particularly following the December 2007 storm. The fine, reduced to $50,000 on appeal, is still unpaid. Christensen said it will be paid when financing comes through.

Gilbert Myers of Pioneer Boulevard was very concerned that several residences along the steep road might be affected by the mandate to widen Pioneer and add a five-foot sidewalk.

When witnesses appear at the public hearing before the council, they will be sworn in and must testify to facts, Nelson has said. The council must hold the hearing on the rezone request within 90 days of the completed application, or before the end of March.

Erin Hart, 360-537-3932, ehart@thedailyworld.com. Twitter: @DW_Erin


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