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Talent development approved after decades of waiting

A hillside tract of land in Talent has gained approval for a subdivision after several decades of efforts.

The approval followed a March 10 ruling from the state Land Use Board of Appeals, which reversed a denial and ordered the city to approve the developer’s application.

For three decades owners have attempted to gain approval for housing on a 26-acre site at Belmont Road in the southwest part of town that is described by LUBA as a peninsula of the city.

Owners Tony and Tory Nieto’s Talent View Estates project will get the approval after LUBA ruled that city Hearings Officer Roger Pearce’s Sept. 10 denial was based on a city standard that is not clear and objective and therefore outside the range of discretion allowed the local government under its comprehensive plan and implementing ordinances.

“We are excited for Talent, with a lack of housing and with the fire,” said Tony Nieto. ‘It will broaden the city tax base and more importantly eventually equate to more affordable housing. It uses the property for what it was zoned for, residential housing.”

Nieto noted there is an appeal period, but that city planning staff had supported the development even though neighbors opposed it.

“My feelings are that it would be hard to overturn the LUBA decision,” said Nieto. An appeal may be made through the Oregon court system.

To develop the property, which will have 49 residences, a public right-of-way will need to be obtained from the Central Oregon & Pacific Railway for a crossing where Belmont Road ends. A private crossing exists now.

The city of Talent will need to apply for the right-of-way. That includes working with the Oregon Department of Transportation and the railroad.

“We as land owners can’t do it. We will try to do it in conjunction with the city,” Nieto said. In their application, participation by the city in part of the cost of developing a crossing using city system development fees is requested.

“There’s a ton of things that need to be worked out. We’ll do what the city wants us to do and is fair to everybody,” said Nieto.

The city and the developers reached an agreement on how the latest application would proceed, with the Nietos withdrawing an appeal to a previous denial in March 2020. The agreement called for the request to be considered only under codes that existed at the time of a 2018 application and did not allow standards from the city comprehensive plan.

City staff recommend approval in July 2020, but the Planning Commission denied the application, and Pearce upheld the denial.

LUBA heard the case Sept. 1. Ashland lawyer Chris Heard represented nearby property owners Vern Davis, Mary Tsui, Laurie Cuddy and Forest Davis. Among their concerns was potential loss of a private right-of-way across the railroad tracks.

Pearce in his ruling said the application failed to satisfy one subdivision code standard related to vehicle access and circulation because it did not have details of design and construction of the railroad crossing, acquisition of a railroad-crossing permit from ODOT and securing of a public right-of-way from COPR.

Provisions in Oregon Revised Statues related to “needed housing” say that standards which are not clear and objective can be grounds for reversal of a denial, said Hearn. LUBA cited the “needed housing” criteria in its ruling.

Hearn said the ruling is consistent with trends that attempt to deal with homelessness and a lack of affordable housing statewide.

“The state of Oregon has kind of been moving in the long-term toward getting more housing options through the interpretation of existing state statues,” said Hearn. “Local government criteria that affect needed housing of any kind has to be based on clear and objective standards.”

Needed housing criteria started to be applied in the 1990s to prevent cities from stifling subdivision development, Hearn said. Initially it was applied mostly to affordable housing proposals but is now applied to all types of developments.

Developer Eric Artner spent several years attempting to create a planned unit development on the site in the first decade of this century. That effort ended in denial in 2008. The property has been in city limits since 1990.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.