Metro councilors hear critique from Forest Grove and Cornelius on UGB
Former Hillsboro Mayor Tom Hughes made a trip back to western Washington County this week, and it wasn't exactly a warm welcome.
Hughes, who's wrapping up his first year as president of Metro, the regional government, was invited to address the Forest Grove City Council Monday night - and he got an earful from the elected board.
At issue was the recent decision by the Metro Council to deny Forest Grove's request to expand the urban growth boundary near the city to accommodate more industrial development. The proposed inclusion of the 115-acre parcel, located on the city's north side, was endorsed by a Metro advisory panel this summer but shot down by the Metro Council last month, along with a similar bid by Cornelius.
Hughes, joined by Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington, tried to launch a pre-emptive strike by noting that the council also nixed requests by several other communities, including Tualatin, Sherwood and Wilsonville.
'I assure you that your colleagues in other parts of the region are just as irritated with us,' he said.
Maybe so, but they weren't holding the microphones Monday night.
In an environment that city councilor Tom Johnston later described as a pair of ducks 'landing on a pond in front of a duck blind,' Hughes and Harrington took the city officials' best shots.
The theme was very clear. Councilors said they feel as if Metro imposes requirements on them on issues such as housing density, but then doesn't allow them to expand to create the kind of large industrial lots needed to bring jobs into the city.
'Your own standards tell us we need a large lot,' said Councilor Victoria Lowe. 'That's all we asked for and we still got nothing.'
Several councilors wondered aloud whether the benefits of belonging to Metro outweighed the restrictions that come with it, and Councilor Tom BeLusko said he'd like the city staff to examine whether Forest Grove could withdraw from the regional government.
Hughes, who was viewed as a city ally during his days as Hillsboro's mayor, said he sympathized.
'These are some of the issues I've had with Metro over the years,' he said.
However, he said, the elected officials on the Metro Council have to look out for the region, not individual cities.
Lowe countered that with Hillsboro getting new land for industrial expansion, it looked like some cities did better than others.
'Without those large lots, we can't compete with Hillsboro for those jobs,' she said.
Hughes urged patience. 'You will do better with jobs in your community as we do better as a region,' he said.
Councilor Elena Uhing wasn't convinced. In her closing comments, made after Hughes and Harrington left, she made what sounded like a sharp warning shot. 'It's become more and more evident that we need to have staff take a look at what direction we want to take with Metro,' she said.
Similar tone in Cornelius
Last Monday, Cornelius mayor Jef Dalin struck a similar tone when Harrington visited that city's council session along with Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette.
Dalin said that in shutting down a bid on the part of Cornelius to include land for housing and school development, the regional government closed doors for Cornelius to lure employees of Intel's new expansion in Hillsboro into the city.
'We're going to miss that opportunity,' Dalin said. 'Intel housing won't come to Cornelius.'
Dalin said the city isn't done pushing for a solution to its growth concerns. With nearly all its residential land developed, the city has few opportunities to grow its tax base to offset the rising cost of providing urban services like police and fire response.
'We are not done,' Dalin said. 'We are going to continue to push on this.'
Steve Heinrich, the city council president, piled on with concerns about Metro's push for higher density in suburbs like Cornelius.
While Harrington said reduced federal investment in infrastructure improvements, especially roads, made the push toward density inevitable, Heinrich said people in western Washington County are often looking for a different way of life than that found in Portland or Beaverton.
'People come out here for a little more space,' said council president Steve Heinrich. 'They don't want to be shoved into a crackerbox.'