Stafford neighbors work on future
by: Vern Uyetake,

As talks to shape the Stafford Triangle's future begin, signs in the rural swath pose a critical question: 'To be or not to be,' a play on Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' and on the new form of government that finally has Stafford neighbors talking.

About 100 of those neighbors packed a room at the Rolling Hills Community Church last Thursday to talk about whether to approve a hamlet that could chart the future of the hilly rural area.

The 4,000 acres of unincorporated land - surrounded by Tualatin, West Linn and Lake Oswego - are likely to come into Metro's Urban Growth Boundary in 2008, a move that will bring about quick development and change.

Stafford residents want a say in that change and have filed an application with Clackamas County to form a hamlet, a forum by which they can act as an advisory group to county officials. Residents throughout the triangle must vote on the hamlet Nov. 1 to make it official.

In talks leading up to the vote, there were no politicians and no suits in the room Sept. 7 as residents probed a potential structure for the hamlet. Instead, residents dressed in sandals and rolled shirtsleeves, ranging in age from early 20s to their senior years, were led by a single county employee charged with walking them through their first few legal steps.

'We need to get the community together and decide if we want to have a hamlet and if so, what are the rules?' said Rob Fallow, one of nine people suggested to serve on a board directing the hamlet's activity.

Outlining the course to November's vote, Fallow and other speakers described a path of discussion on bylaws, boundaries and visioning. Per county rule, residents in Stafford can cast one vote per person, one vote per corporation in the balloting but can change that equation in their own bylaws.

That voting structure will likely address an ongoing imbalance between a small number of large landowners who want more say in Stafford's future - some who are pro-development - and a large number of residents on small lots who would keep tight reins on development if they could.

Yet in spite of admitted tensions and a decade of fighting over whether to resist or embrace encroaching growth, the air was clear at the Rolling Hills Church Sept. 7, if only a little warm.

Stafford residents want a voice in their future and have shown an increasing effort to bridge their own tensions in favor of a unified stance to face pressure from city and regional governments.

The group proposed a slate of board members that reflects its own diverse interests, including developer Herb Koss and Mike Stewart, who plans development with a group including Koss. Also proposed to serve were Adam Klugman and Dave Adams, who have encouraged land preservation, and Molly Ellis, Scott Flora, John Kuhl, Richard Schmidt and Fallow. Nominations are still being accepted for the board, which will also be made official in November.

'I think we all agree that what trumps all of our private agendas is this public process,' Klugman said. 'We've been fighting for years.'

A fragile truce in the in-fighting has held since June. The push toward self-governance has so-far allowed Stafford residents to move past labels of pro- or anti-growth to establish consensus. They face potential challenges in future talks about voting and, if the hamlet is approved, about planning.

From outside forces, the hamlet also faces pressure from surrounding cities wary of a lack of planning for infrastructure, services cities may be asked to provide.

Those cities, in letters to the Clackamas County Commission last month, opposed the formation of the hamlet, saying surrounding towns should plan for Stafford before any urban level planning occurs inside the triangle.

Hamlet organizers say they'll honor those stakeholder concerns when planning begins and the commission has so far let the plan go forward. The commission will need to approve the hamlet if residents there decide to go forward.

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