09-03 FILE Witham Oaks ABC.jpg

A pair of cyclists pedal up a path on the Witham Oaks property in northwest Corvallis in this file photo. Developers hope to build housing for up to 900 students on the 95-acre parcel. The issue goes before the Corvallis Planning Commission on Wednesday. (Andy Cripe/Corvallis Gazette-Times file photo)

ANDY CRIPE

How hot is the community temperature on development issues?

Wednesday’s Corvallis Planning Commission public hearing on Witham Oaks should give you a clue.

Recent hearings on the Coronado apartments and a plan for the corner of Northwest Ninth Street and Maxine Avenue have either filled or overfilled the downtown fire station, the commission’s usual venue.

The Witham Oaks case, involving more northwest Corvallis property, will be heard at the LaSells Stewart Center at Oregon State University because of community interest in the 95-acre parcel, on which developers hope to build housing for up to 900 Oregon State University students.

Opponents of the plan have organized a group called Friends of Witham Oaks. A strategy session was held last Thursday and more than a dozen people participated, said Louise Marquering of Friends of Witham Oaks.

Marquering and her group are concerned about “piecemeal zoning” of individual plots of land (including Ninth and Maxine) and the precedent that such decisions would set. The group recommends a broader look at zoning and noted the citywide approach underway in the Collaboration Corvallis neighborhood planning workgroup.

The developer, Campus Crest Communities, of Charlotte, N.C., specializes in providing housing for college students and says its plan provides “long-term conservation of the natural features and resources on (most) of the subject property.”

Campus Crest plans to build 296 housing units on 24.6 acres on the site, which is west of Northwest 36th Street off of Harrison Boulevard. The remainder of the acreage would be preserved as open space.

To make the project happen, the Planning Commission and City Council would have to approve a comprehensive plan amendment, a zoning change and planned development and subdivision applications.

City staff has recommended approval of the project, although they have itemized 43 conditions of approval that the developer must meet.

The land has had a long and tortured history. Seven annexation votes were held — and defeated — between 1978 and 2002 before Corvallis voter approved bringing the property into the city in 2004.

In 2007 the Corvallis City Council approved a plan to build 211 single-family houses on the site, but the project collapsed when the housing market crashed.

The land remains zoned for single-family (low density) use, but Campus Crest wants it changed to medium-density.

“If they approve this you’re going to have requests from all over town,” Marquering said. “We’re all in this together. It’s not just one part of Corvallis. It could happen in other parts.”

City of Corvallis Planning Division Manager Kevin Young said that Wednesday’s hearing might be lengthy, and that either the duration of the meeting or a request to leave the record open could mean the debate will carry over to the Planning Commission’s Sept. 18 meeting.

Anticipating that, the commission has scheduled a conclusion of its hearing on the Ninth/Maxine proposal at 5:30 p.m. that day and would follow with a continuation of the the Witham Oaks debate.

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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