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Hamlet designation takes a step forward in Stafford

Residents vote for plan by big margin
by: Lee van der Voo, Participants at last week’s Stafford Hamlet session at Athey Creek Middle School overwhelmingly voted for a hamlet designation.

Stafford residents approved the formation of the Stafford Hamlet last week in a landslide vote to keep a long-standing dispute over development on a path toward reconciliation.

The election drew 370 voters from 600 households in the Stafford Triangle, who penciled out ballots in the cafeteria of the Athey Creek Middle School in two town hall meetings last week. They were led through numerous ballot options by a handful of grassroots organizers, the same handful that's worked to bring the group together since last spring.

By Saturday afternoon, only 30 people had rejected the notion of a hamlet, showing overwhelming support for organizing themselves into the hamlet. If approved by the Clackamas County Commission, the Stafford Hamlet can now formally advise county officials on matters in the rural area.

'The idea is we would have our own say in our own community,' said Toby Paul, a 56-year-old Stafford resident who helped voters register at last Thursday's open house.

Stafford residents have previously divided into two camps, with some supporting development and others calling for controls on growth as Metro stands poised to net the Stafford Basin into the Urban Growth Boundary in 2008. Paul said the idea of uniting both sides appealed to hamlet organizers.

'Instead of having the same as it was in Congress for the last six years, where everybody did whatever Mr. Bush said, what if what we had was instead of somebody running something we had a consensus,' she said.

Like many residents in the Stafford area, Paul lives a quiet life on two rural acres. She shares the home with her mother, and plans to add chickens and goats to a household that already includes cats and the naturally abundant raccoons and deer.

Ideally, Paul said she would retain Stafford's rural character, a character she's enjoyed since being raised in Stafford as a child.

The challenge ahead for the hamlet's new governing board of directors - elected by vote in last week's meetings, along with bylaws - is whether the desires of residents like Paul can be merged with the development interests of a number of large-parcel owners.

The mix of directors on the approved hamlet board shows a balance between those forces. Former adversaries will now serve side by side on the board, most notably David Adams and Mike Stewart, who initially led Stafford's two factions in separate groups. Each filed a petition with Clackamas County to form their own government earlier this year, spawning a mediation effort by the county.

In the last year, that forced mediation and a slow process of consensus-building has been a success.

Hamlet voters approved their governing bylaws last week and eight other directors on the board, including: Rob Fallow, John Kuhl, Carol Yamada, Bill Markt and (at-large directors) David Coles, Molly Ellis, John English and Mike Miller.

'This process is absolutely great,' said Sally Quimby, who was active in efforts to convene neighbors for the vote. 'This could be a model for you do it, whatever 'it' is.'

Quimby, who moved to the Stafford area in 1991 and recently realized her goal of retiring there, said she's been proud of the group that's led the grassroots effort to organize even differing views into a unified position for the area.

As a volunteer who also made a run for a spot on the board of directors, Quimby said the process has been an opportunity for rural neighbors to become acquainted.

'Being in a rural area the nice part is that you don't have to see people but you don't meet people,' she said. 'It amazes me, there are people who have been here a long time.'

As one of those long-time residents, Paul said she'd be happiest if Stafford never changed. But while registering voters to the hamlet forum, she had her first encounter with a Stafford resident who hoped to subdivide his land.

'I said 'that's fine. Come on in and vote,'' she said.

While Paul said she recognizes the challenges that lie ahead for Stafford residents, she welcomed the possibility of working with neighbors to steer change.

'Not that we're all going to be completely happy with it but we'll be happier than if it just rolled over us like a bulldozer,' she said.