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Farmworker Housing Proposal Modified

Changes follow public input

INDEPENDENCE -- Concern from community members over the layout of a planned farmworker housing complex on Gun Club Road has persuaded the developers to reduce the total number of buildings for the project.

Officials from the Farmworker Housing Development Corporation of Woodburn, the owners of the land, and Newberg-based CASA of Oregon, the development consultants, said they will also re-position some of the remaining buildings and a proposed community center to avoid having to remove many of the standing oak trees on the site, another major concern of neighbors.

The changes were made following comments by citizens and Independence Community Development Director Mike Danko regarding a preliminary site plan presented last month.

Larry Kleinman, the interim executive director of FHDC, said he and other officials had anticipated making some changes due to public feedback to those early plans, which outlined a $6 million housing complex consisting of 42 units.

"The thing for us is to develop a logistically and financially feasible project that meets all the elements of sustainability," Kleinman said. "Neighborhood support is an important part of that."

Under the original site plan, the 42 rowhouses and duplexes would have been located in 18 buildings on the roughly 4-acre property.

At a public meeting two weeks ago, citizens said that number was too great and that the way they were laid out would have required removing large clusters of trees on the site.

A traditional apartment complex planned last year by the property's previous owner was approved by the city because it kept much of that savanna in tact, Danko said.

This "site plan wouldn't have been approved the way it was proposed," he said. "But we are talking about a plan that CASA and FHDC said all along wasn't going to be the final one."

Julie Garver of CASA said portions of the oak grove would be spared by removing at least "a couple" of buildings. Kleinman said FHDC had not yet settled on how many living units will be cut.

Danko said he didn't see flooding as an issue because the project sat on a section of the property outside the floodplain shown on a Federal Emergency Management Agency flood map.

Nevertheless, Garver said some units would be pushed further inward from bordering Ash Creek and a proposed community center moved further away from Gun Club Road to alleviate concerns.

Developers will also increase the amount of buffer space between the complex and neighboring properties.

"We're trying to address the feedback and at the same time retain the livability for residents by keeping the types of houses -- the duplexes and rowhouses -- the same, for more amenities like private outdoor space," she said.

Garver said the overall cost of the project will drop with fewer than 42 units, but should remain economically viable. She said the projected rent on the homes -- $350 for a two-bedroom, $425 for a three-bedroom and $495 for a four-bedroom -- would see a slight increase.

"Rent will still be very affordable to people in the market that we've interviewed," she said.

Kleinman said officials likely wouldn't submit a formal site plan for review by the city until late fall, after the state decides whether or not to approve funding for the project. Both organizations would continue to dialogue with neighbors until then, he said.

There are only a handful of housing options dedicated to the more than 4,600 low-income farmworkers living in Polk County. Garver said that the changes would mean fewer units available to those seeking homes.

"We want to provide housing for the people out there that are in serious need of it," she said.

"But, you have to weigh the needs for this property with those of the neighbors and the community, because they have needs, too."

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