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N. Church residents want to retain neighborhood feel

Residents of North Church Street in Phoenix may retain more of the small-neighborhood feeling they cherish rather than undergo an expansive street improvement project that might remove up to 40 trees in a five-block section.

After hearing citizen concerns over the project’s scope, the Phoenix City Council voted Feb. 5 to seek a variance from city standards that would limit total improvement width to 38 feet rather than encompassing more of the 60-foot right of way. A hearing on the variance will be held before the Planning Commission, which would need to approve the change. The hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 12, in the Public Works Office, 1000 S. B St.

“We have a very small-town feel on that street, and all of us residents would like to keep that,” said Diana Shiplet, who lives in the 300 block. “The concept that they are looking at is something I think we could work with.”

Under the variance request, there would be two 8-foot travel lanes, 8-foot-wide parking areas on both sides and a 5-foot sidewalk, most likely on the west side. City standards would normally require two 10-foot travel lanes, 8-foot parking lanes and two 5-foot sidewalks. The current street is about 16 feet wide with no sidewalks or paved adjacent parking. Improvements would be made from First to Sixth streets, about 2,000 linear feet.

"Wider streets mean faster traffic. That’s not safe for our kids," said Shiplet. "We would have lost all the trees on our property. I would have lost a significant portion of my front yard that I just redid this summer." A neighbor with no air conditioning would have lost her only two shade trees, she said.

The City Council heard public testimony during two January meetings prior to making its decision.

If the variance is approved, tree loss would be a lot less than the 30 to 40 projected under city standards, said Planning Director Evan MacKenzie. But sewer and water line replacement and installation of storm water infrastructure will require digging trenches up to 8 feet deep and 4 feet wide that may impact tree root systems, he said.

“I’m trying to be neutral and let the Planning Commission make the decision so that the public doesn’t think the staff is trying to push the commission in any one direction,” said MacKenzie. He will issue a staff report March 5, but it will not contain a recommendation.

“We don’t even have an option for sidewalks on one side. That pretty much triggers Planning Commission's review; also the (narrower) lane configuration,” said MacKenzie.

“All we are doing is deciding on a (street) section, not necessarily where it will go inside the right of way,” said MacKenzie. “There’s still a lot to be done on a final design.”

Improvements have been in city plans for a number of years and funds are now available. The capital improvement project is budgeted at $715,000 and would affect 36 properties.

Because Planning Commission action is quasi-judicial, commissioners cannot accept input from interested parties outside of the public hearing. The same stricture applies to contact with City Council members, who potentially might review the matter if there is an appeal made of a Planning Commission decision. Residents can talk with staff about the project.

Written comments on the variance can be made and will be put into the record for commissioners’ consideration. Comments can be submitted by email to evan.mackenzie@phoenixoregon.gov. If written comments are offered at the March 12 session, a continuation of the hearing may be needed to review them, MacKenzie said.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Phoenix resident Lynn Cohen walks her dog Sheba accross North Church Street Tuesday afternoon. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]