The Canby Planning Commission this week approved the remanded appeal of a proposed assisted living development that they rejected three months earlier, citing traffic and other concerns.
The project, Asteria Senior Living, proposes a two-story, 102-bed assisted living facility specializing in memory care, located on a 2.6-acre property on the corner of Southeast 13th and Ivy — near the Canby Adult Center, Ackerman Center and the Hope Village Senior Living Community.
The project would also include four independent living duplexes on site, which would be concentrated on the east of the property — the side nearest the Dinsmore Estates neighborhood.
While commissioners had previously expressed concerns about the size and visual mass of the 56,000-square-foot structure, Tyler Smith, a local attorney representing the applicants, told the Planning Commission he believed the project actually represented a “transitional use” between the lower-density neighboring subdivisions and the higher-use properties such as Hope Village and the busy senior and swim centers.
“This is the right kind of transitional use between R-2 and R-1, from low intensity to high intensity,” Smith argued.
Much of the hearing concerned the request by developers Petronella and Daniel Donovan, of Donovan Investments, to build only 60 spaces to serve the project — approximately 50 fewer than city codes would normally require — and none of which would be designated for facility residents.
Smith pointed out that all residents would either be receiving care in the facility’s memory care unit or would be other high-acuity patients needing assistance with activities of daily living.
In other words, none of them would be driving.
“The folks in the memory care unit — I hate to say it, but they’re locked in,” he said. “They don’t drive. They would not be legally allowed to drive. They can’t get a driver’s license. And the folks in the assisted living, by definition, need help with their daily living. They also would not have driver’s licenses and would not be driving.”
Smith pointed out that the proposed parking allotment for the Canby development was actually significantly higher than the industry standards for similar facilities in the area.
Developers’ proposal offered about .5 parking spaces per resident bed, while the requirements are only .2 per bed in unincorporated Clackamas County, .14 per bed in Oregon City and .25 per bed in Portland.
“We wouldn’t have a need for an exemption if we were in any of those jurisdictions,” Smith said.
He said this unique feature of an assisted living development also addresses commissioners’ other main concern — one that tends to come up with virtually all proposed developments in Canby: Traffic.
“These folks aren’t going to add to traffic,” Smith said of Asteria’s residents. “They aren’t going to be driving their own cars. They aren’t going to have their own cars they’re going to be parking in the first place. They aren’t going to be coming and going.”
Ultimately, Smith argued that an assisted living facility like Asteria was one of the best possible uses of the lot on 13th and Ivy, which has a complicated planning history.
The lot was labeled an “area of special concern” during Canby’s master planning process nearly two decades ago, with city leaders suggesting at the time that it should receive a special zoning designation of C-R (commercial/residential) — though it was never actually changed from R-1.
Canby rejected the previous attempt to develop the project in 2018, when attorney Smith was a member of the City Council, over concerns that the 38-unit townhome development would conflict with neighboring uses and zoning.
Smith said a nursing home, which has been one of the recommended uses for the lot since it was designated an area of special concern in 2003, is the “right solution for this kind of a problem.”
“What else are you going to put on that corner?” he asked the commission. “A miniature subdivision? You don’t have the spacing standards. All the people that live there would have their own cars. There would be much more traffic. …
“So if the main concerns are traffic and parking, this is probably one of the least-traffic, least-parking uses that you could imagine fitting in there. A gas station, duplexes, residential subdivision or convenience store is bringing in much more traffic than a residential facility like this.”
His reasoning seemed to persuade commissioners.
“I almost 100% agree with what the applicant has said,” Commissioner Jeff Mills said. “It serves as a transition. It’s a low traffic impact; therefore, it’s safe.”
Mills, however, echoed his previous concerns that the proposed building was simply too large and visually incompatible with the surrounding neighborhoods.
“I’m still very, very troubled that you’re going with such a large, massive facility in R-1,” Mills said. “That’s my chief problem with this. Other than that, I think it’s great.”
But some of his colleagues pushed back.
“One of the closest buildings to this is the gymnasium at Ackerman Middle School, and it’s just a big concrete brick,” said Commissioner Michael Hutchinson. “It’s featureless. There are trees in front of it, and it has lighting on it, but it’s just a gymnasium in the finest American tradition of gymnasiums.”
While agreeing the proposed facility was large, Hutchinson and other commissioners complimented its aesthetics and its location on the southernmost edge of Canby — which is the primary direction the city is expected to grow in the years to come.
“What else are you going to put there?” asked Chair John Savory, echoing Smith. “You’re not going to put a 7-Eleven, that’s for sure, or something that would have less of a traffic impact than what this project is proposing. I think it’s a good project.”
The commission had originally denied the project, which developers appealed to the Canby City Council. The council remanded the decision back to the Planning Commission last month after developers said they had new information to present.
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