Neighbors fight against proposed subdivision, citing landslide concerns

A new subdivision is proposed for a piece of land off Southwest Taylors Ferry, but the neighborhood say it sits on what was once a massive landslide. Image courtesy City of Portland

The South Burlingame Neighborhood Association is appealing the city of Portland’s approval of a new subdivision.

The land is owned by Riverview Abbey Mausoleum Company. The proposal is to clear cut about five acres of land above the Mausoleum, off Southwest Taylors Ferry, for a 21-home subdivision.

But some are worried about whether the land can handle the new development.

"I got a chance to go out and see this landslide and it's a big one,” Scott Burns, a professor of geology at Portland State University, said.

The neighborhood sits in the middle of what was once destruction. Thousands of years ago, a landslide ripped the area apart.

Burns has one big concern.

“Building on a landslide is not a good idea,” Burns said. “If it does reactivate, what's going to happen? There's no insurance for it. They're going to sue the city. And they're going to sue the builder."

The South Burlingame Neighborhood Association is now appealing the city's approval of the development.

“Them going in and doing the work actually could trigger a potential landslide,” Robert Lennox, the president of the neighborhood association, said.

Lennox said the neighborhood association isn’t against all development, it just wants something different, something safer.

"We are not against development. We think this property does have potential for development," Lennox said.

Lennox said another option would be to build a few homes, within the forest, not instead of the forest. Or, he said, possibly multifamily housing or potentially clustering the development in areas that are outside of the landslide.

“There’s environmental zones that protect this four and a half acres,” Lennox said. “Part of that has to do with trees that mitigate water, run off, all the things that are associated with helping mitigate the risk of a landslide.”

As a part of the agreement with the city, the developers would better nine other acres around the five-acre development, including upgrading a culvert and rerouting a sanitary sewer. Lennox agrees those are great changes, but still questions if they’re worth the risk.

He’ll go to city council on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the appeal.

We asked Burns what would help make this development safer, and he said possibly massive dewatering, but there just are no guarantees in an area like this.

“The guys that are doing the designs are very good geotechnical engineers and engineering Geologists,” Burns said. “It’s just, how can you guarantee to the people that this is not going to move.”

KATU called Steve Griffith, with the Riverview Abbey Mausoleum Company, a representative for the city and another representative for the project, but did not get any calls back.

The city council will discuss the appeal at 2 p.m. on Wednesday.

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