The Pendleton Planning Commission with three members absent Thursday approved two variances and tabled two sought in order to build workforce housing on seven acres on Tutuilla Road.

City Council signaled the project’s start July 10 when it approved a $50,000 loan to the developer, which would build housing for rent or purchase for those earning at least 60 percent of Pendleton’s average median income, which was $50,074 in 2011.

The commission held the last two variances for its Aug. 2 meeting after two hours of deliberations and a presentation by project architect Doug Circosta and opposition from Betty Brunette of Pendleton Tennis Center, which skirts the east property line.

Passed 3-1 were two variances related to lot setbacks and sizes. City Planner Evan MacKenzie said all four variances must be approved before the planning commission can consider approving the development as a subdivision and developer Jivanjee Circosta Architecture can apply for a building permit.

MacKenzie said the commission chose to examine all housing units as one, deviating from the city practice of individually reviewing units for purchase.

“Basically they’re being asked to approve the project to allow individual ownership rather than a way that wouldn’t,” MacKenzie said. “The applicant has proposed a project that meets all applicable standards had it been proposed strictly rental or apartments only.”

Still up for deliberation is a request for the lots to exceed the 45 percent lot-coverage limit and building a private street. Commission Member Bob Ehmann, who voted against the first two variances, questioned the need to make exceptions for the project.

“The exception I take with that is that we’re looking at a subdivision, and not an apartment complex, so each lot has to be considered,” Ehmann said. “What I heard was there’s a great project here, let’s approve it anyway.”

Commission Chairman Scott Fairley and commission member Lou Porter argued that an exception should be made for the development because of Pendleton’s demand for housing.

Brunette addressed concerns she raised in a July 1 letter urging the commission to require the developer place a traffic signal at the intersection of the road to the development and Tutuilla Road.

City Engineer Tim Simons said Friday that projections for the intersection don’t meet American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials standards necessary for a traffic signal. But if citizens raise concerns about specific criteria like traffic volume, traffic delay, sight distance and accident history, the city will reassess.

Brunette’s letter also encouraged the developers to place a fence around the perimeter and add a park to keep children from roaming outside the neighborhood.

Circosta said he didn’t think adding the fence would be a problem, and development was already slated to have amenities such as a sports court and large open field, which he addressed in is presentation.

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Contact Chris Rizer at crizer@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.

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