City News

Salem City Council denies proposed subdivision on historic farm citing concerns about tree removal

The proposed subdivision is on a 29-acre property at 4540 Pringle Rd. S.E. (Ardeshir Tabrizian/Salem Reporter)

The Salem City Council denied an application by a developer to build 139 single family lots on the historic Meyer Farm in south Salem.  

In a 5-2 vote, the council voted in favor of denying the planning administrator’s approval of the project, citing concerns over the removal of significant trees on the property.  

Mayor Chuck Bennett and Councilor Jose Gonzalez were in favor of approving the administrator’s decision. Councilor Virginia Stapleton was absent and Councilor Jim Lewis has resigned. 

The planning administrator approved the tentative plan submitted by Portland-based developer Kehoe Northwest Properties on Nov. 3.  

The plan has drawn vocal opposition from the community with members concerned about the loss of Oregon white oaks, traffic and the degradation of open space.  

Kehoe has plans to develop lots ranging in size from 4,000 to 8,100 square feet at 4540 Pringle Rd. S.E. while preserving the historic farmhouse built in 1915 and 3.6 surrounding acres.  

The developer has plans to remove 17 trees that were determined to be significant, meaning they’re Oregon white oaks with a diameter 24 inches or greater, out of 64 total identified on the property.   

The largest tree slated for removal is 42 inches in diameter.  

Councilor Trevor Phillips, who represents southeast Salem on the council, said he believed Kehoe could save more trees in its design and “didn’t meet the burden of proof for reasonable design alternatives in regard to significant trees.” 

He moved to deny the planning administrator’s approval, with Councilor Chris Hoy seconding. 

Earlier during the meeting, Hoy made a motion to modify the planning administrator’s decision by telling the applicant to preserve significant trees on 10 lots by dedicating them as open space or incorporating them into the homestead lot.  

He said the developer could redesign its plan to add 10 additional lots elsewhere as long as they met design standards. His motion also called for relocating a pedestrian path on Hilfiker Lane to make sure it didn’t impact trees.  

Hoy’s motion failed with only Bennett, Hoy and Councilor Vanessa Nordyke voting yes. 

Phillips said Hoy’s motion was a good start but didn’t go far enough. 

“I’m still not convinced that we’ve met that reasonable design alternative,” he said.  

In the applicant’s final written argument dated Feb. 21, they argue a city code that calls for “No significant trees are designated for removal, unless there no reasonable design alternatives that would enable preservation of such trees,” isn’t a basis to deny the application. 

The removal of significant trees is necessary to make room for the Hilfiker Lane SE extension, and provides a building envelope for the homes,” the argument signed by Garrett Stephenson said.  

The argument also stated realigning Hilfiker Lane to preserve trees wasn’t feasible.  

A separate letter said it would create conflict with existing driveways, would increase the cut along the open space area and would create more dangerous driving conditions. 

On Jan. 26, city staff went to the property to determine how many significant trees there were.  

They found 16 significant trees that the applicant had not identified. Six of those were slated for removal, a city memo dated Feb. 3 said. 

Another 10 of the trees identified as significant in the applicant’s plan were not actually significant, the memo said. Four were smaller than 24 inches, two were dead, three were on an adjacent property and one was actually a Douglas fir.  

City Attorney Dan Atchison said the council still needed to adopt a final written decision and the matter would be before council again on March 14.  

He said the applicant could modify the application in a manner that addresses the reason for denial. 

Atchison told the council they couldn’t apply policies or goals that weren’t adopted land use regulations at the time the application was submitted.  

“The city cannot deny an application for housing just because we think a different use or non-use of the property would be better,” he said. 

He said the applicant has requested clear, objective criteria be applied to the application. 

In an email to Salem Reporter, Stephenson said Kehoe is working quickly to determine whether there are other feasible development options it can present to the council before the March 14 meeting.  

“We were obviously disappointed with the council’s decision, especially given the substantial additional work that Mr. Kehoe and his team did to respond to concerns about trees, including granting the council’s request to extend the city’s decision deadline to provide city staff the opportunity to confirm the tree preservation plan,” he wrote.  

Correction: This article was updated to reflect that Councilor Vanessa Nordyke also supported Chris Hoy’s compromise motion. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected].

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