A neighborhood dispute has compelled Oregon City officials to take a hard look at 78 obstructions of city street rights of way in Canemah, a small historic neighborhood consisting of 41 blocks.
Public Works Director John Lewis identified the 78 obstructions by comparing structures with the city's mapping system.
Noting most of the obstructions have caused no public-safety issues for decades and might be permitted, he recommended a "do nothing" approach that wouldn't require any further action on longstanding encroachments into city property.
"These are time-consuming things," Lewis said. "I'd much rather be pursuing other work that has much more impact to the community."
City commissioners unanimously rejected the "do nothing" recommendation. Commissioner Frank O'Donnell said he liked the idea of providing a global permit for the obstructions, but said it was important to note that any part of the permit could be revocable at any time.
"Do nothing is like abdicating your duty as a commissioner," O'Donnell said.
Lewis said that a collective right of way permit "sounds easier," but he worried about the complexities of what it would do later. He acknowledged that some of his examples were fairly clear violations, but he said the city would have to do a lot of research to validate each case.
"Wow, how did that ever happen?" Lewis asked about a structure built next to McLoughlin Boulevard on a site designated for a side street.
Mayor Dan Holladay said the city isn't planning to build sidewalks over the fences, porches and other structures homeowners have constructed over the street right of way in Canemah.
"We don't intend to change Canemah's streets anytime soon — probably ever," Holladay said. "It's hard to go back in a neighborhood this old and try to enforce something that has come up in the past 20 or 30 years."
Recent right of way neighborhood disputes in Canemah have involved everything from property owners building fences to developers needing right of way in order to construct new housing. Commissioners talked about how the problem isn't unique to Canemah. An adjacent property owner recently built a firepit in part of the McLoughlin Promenade park.
Founded in the latter half of the 19th century, Canemah was a separate city until its 1928 annexation into Oregon City, which may have building-permit records going back to the 1920s. Oregon City staff plan to come back early next year with a plan for addressing issues in Canemah.
"We'll start, and bring back some of the easier ones," said City Manager Tony Konkol. "This is a significant project, depending how far we want to go."
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