With JENNIFER CLAMPET, Pamplin Media Group

Even with local cities withholding their support, the Clackamas County commissioners approved the formation of the Stafford Triangle hamlet recently, a move that will allow residents in the Stafford area to plan the future of the rural swath between West Linn, Tualatin and Lake Oswego.

A hamlet is a quasi-governmental model that allows locals in rural areas to organize forums and coordinate community-based activities, including planning.

The approval of a hamlet in Stafford marks the end of a dispute between landowners there, one the county has been mediating for months.

Residents for and against dense development in Stafford - an unincorporated area that includes 650 homes and about 3,000 residents, located north of I-205 - previously divided into two camps, those that wanted the hamlet and those eager for a village, a structure with taxing authority. The two groups filed separate applications to Clackamas County earlier this year, spawning the mediation effort by the county. They ultimately settled their grievances by making a single application to become a hamlet.

'The commissioners chose to stay committed to the process,' said Dave Adams, chief petitioner for the hamlet.

Adams described Stafford as having likely dodged the Urban Growth Boundary expansion bullet for the last time. He said he and the rest of Stafford residents know development is probably coming to the area. The threat of encroaching growth prompted Stafford residents to develop their own form of government last spring so planning for the area could be done locally.

'We've been bounced around with everyone else's opinions for the last 20 years,' said Mike Stewart, the former chief petitioner of the village effort who now supports the Stafford Triangle hamlet. 'We just want to give Stafford residents a voice.'

The decision by the Clackamas County Commission allows Stafford residents to move forward with organizational meetings to create a hamlet, produce bylaws and approve a board of directors. The county will still have to approve the hamlet's structure once the meetings are over.

But while Stafford groups originally torn between the concepts of a village and a hamlet celebrated their newfound consensus, the surrounding cities of Lake Oswego, Tualatin and West Linn were less impressed.

Each of the cities sent similar letters of concern to the Clackamas County commissioners.

Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad said conceptual planning for the Stafford area should include input from Lake Oswego. She said dialogue between Stafford and Lake Oswego leaders should result in a plan the city can support if Metro does extend the Urban Growth Boundary south.

She added Stafford must become part of a city for the area to receive urban services, like sewers.

Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden echoed those concerns in a separate letter. Ogden also pushed for annexation to precede any urban service provisions in Stafford.

In West Linn, Mayor Norm King said planning for the Stafford Basin seems reasonable since Metro has not yet made a move to expand the UGB.

He said surrounding cities have yet to develop a community-supported position on planning for Stafford and that urban level planning shouldn't occur before such a vision can be developed by towns on Stafford's borders.

King, expressing concern about a lack of coordination between hamlet supporters and surrounding cities, suggested planning not take place until the communication channels were opened.

Stewart would not comment on the cities' concerns, saying only, 'We don't want to be a threat to any of the cities.'

He noted that the organizational meetings would be '100 percent open to the public' and designed to encourage discussion.

Adams echoed that statement.

'I think everyone understands the cities have a stake in Stafford's future, but the vision of Stafford needs to come first from the citizens that live here,' Adams said.

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