The city’s Planning Commission approved a redesign of the subdivision in a 6-1 vote after tacking on 20 conditions that address details like sprinkler systems, exterior siding patterns and pedestrian walkways. Chairman Thomas Beck voted no, citing narrow spaces between houses and limited parking, among other concerns.

Casey Meadows was the last in “a flurry of residential developments” that came before the Planning Commission between 2005 and 2007, Senior City Planner James Reitz said. The commission approved the previous design, which included a mix of detached houses and up to six attached units in a row.

The then-developer installed necessary water, sewer and electrical services, built roads and delineated lots for 101 homes on the east end of 26th Avenue, but planning and construction stuttered to a halt at the onset of the recession in 2008.

West Linn Developer City Redevelopment LLC took over the now ready-to-build subdivision and decided to make some changes, which were proposed to the commission at its Monday night meeting.

The updated design removes some pedestrian walkways between properties, cuts townhomes down from six to two connected units per building and adds a new style of home called a skinny house that can be constructed on a zero-lot-line, meaning the structure is flush to the property line on one side.

The zero-lot-line coupled with reduced home setbacks will create 16 houses that are a total of 6 feet away from the unit next door, with the wall of one home 1 foot from the property line while the neighboring home is five feet away.

This will create narrow, shaded yards that staff and commissioners worried would be useless for anything other than storage. However, Morgan Will, representing the developer, told the commission that even a limited side-yard can be used, and it is up to the homeowner rather than the city to decide how best to utilize the space. The zero-lot-line construction and the 15-foot-wide, 50-foot-long skinny homes allow the developer to build houses that can sell for a more affordable price than most detached single-family homes, he said.

The development will be a mix of 66 detached homes, including the skinny houses, and 33 duplex-style townhomes, according to the updated design. The final subdivision will contain between 99 and 101 units, 20 of which have been built and sold under the previously approved plans.

Forest Grove Fire and Rescue and planning staff asked that any three-story skinny homes be equipped with sprinkler systems. Though the developer said plumbing the units for sprinklers will be expensive, he agreed to install them.

Commissioners approved the elimination of some pedestrian walkways between homes, the new skinny house design and zero-lot-line construction, among other changes. However, they insisted on differentiated siding on the exterior of the homes, landscaped areas between the skinny houses, a curbed sidewalk, a playground and the sprinkler systems.

Developer Rick Waible said the conditions imposed by the commission mean a more costly construction process, which in turn leads to more expensive homes. While he understands requirements for fire safety, he was unhappy with the demands to landscape between homes, redesign siding and add a curb to pedestrian walkways originally set up to be marked with paint.

It is frustrating, he said, when city officials say they want to see new homes that are affordable for young families and first-time homebuyers, but set out requirements that inflate construction costs and impede affordable prices.

“For starter homes, the mark keeps getting harder to hit,” he said. “There’s your affordable housing, out the window.”

First-time homebuyers want ownership, not fancy siding or landscaped side-yards, Waible said.

Final home prices for Casey Meadows will depend on the costs of implementing the commission’s conditions and making any other planning changes before construction, he said.

–Kari Bray

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