It might surprise you to learn that the rolling hills of Stafford are some of the earliest recorded land grant claims in the Oregon territories.
In fact, most of the land this end of the Willamette Valley had already been divided into claims 10 years before the first pioneer wagons even hit the Oregon Trail.
You see, the first settlers in Stafford didn't arrive in the territory on wagons but aboard ships and horse back. Sailing ships mostly, and passage up the Willamette River was on progressively smaller vessels that ultimately could go no further than the falls in Oregon City.
I have a friend who owns 40 acres on the Willamette River by Wilsonville. In the 1840s, the settler that first established this land claim had disembarked from a steamboat, not a wagon, at the waterfalls in Oregon City. He crossed the river and hiked an ancient Indian trail near the falls that climbed the bluffs of what was Linn City.
He followed the river trail, as had many fur-trappers before him, heading southwest until he found a beautiful unclaimed 800-acre chunk of free land right on the river. He took out his hatchet and cut a notch in a tree at each of the four corners of his claim, and soon he was in the farming and real estate business.
Oregon City was the hub of regional trading activity and the gateway to an emerging agrarian utopia. Stafford is the northern most point of the fertile Willamette Valley. Consequently, the area became the gateway into and out of the valley as settlers discovered some of the richest soil on the planet. It wasn't long before the Stafford area was teaming with agrarian enterprise.
A decade or so later the Indian trail would become a toll road, paved with small logs laid across its width. This road would deliver pioneer families in wagons to the Boone's ferry that crossed the Willamette. Many of the early large land grant claims would be subdivided and sold in pieces to these settlers arriving later in wagons.
That was more than 165 years ago, so it's nothing short of a miracle that we even have the opportunity to discuss Stafford's future today.
Stafford represents the last large piece of land left undeveloped and unspoiled in the entire metro region. So it's not surprising that the majority of my neighbors, in addition to the 35,000 residents of Lake Oswego and 27,000 in West Linn, are in no big rush to see this pastoral area urbanized.
Any talk of development or growth here is understandably troubling because the viability of two of Oregon's most livable cities is at stake.
Every few years Stafford gets thrown into the fires of the Urban Growth Boundary debates by the few local landowners who are eager to cash out and move on. Metro has in fact attempted to include portions of Stafford inside the UGB on two occasions. Years of court battles and thousands of dollars latter we get out… only to have the same people throw us back in the fire again.
Ironically, what comes out of the forge every time we're thrown in the fire is same vision, a vision however that only gets sharper. It's a vision shared by most folks in Lake Oswego, West Linn and Stafford. That vision is a kind of 'rural reserve.'
A desire to somehow preserve Stafford's unique rural legacy.
For us folks in Stafford these trials by fire have been extremely frustrating because we have never really had a seat at the table or even a voice in this discussion. When Metro comes knocking they talk only to West Linn and Lake Oswego; until recently that is.
Two years ago, the property owners in the Stafford triangle agreed to come together to create the Stafford Hamlet. Our primary objective was to encourage every stakeholder to come to the table to participate in a process to determine if we can create a community vision acceptable to the majority of our residents. This month, the visioning process actually begins with a series of 10 (or more if needed) neighborhood meetings where everyone is encouraged to come and share their personal vision with their neighbors. Next month, from 9 to noon on April 19 at Athey Creek School, we will hold a very important town hall meeting to further distill stakeholder input.
We are also requesting our neighbors to submit five photos of things they like and dislike about Stafford, and of development in general, to us via our Web site. All residents and landowners have received a letter outlining this process. This information can also be found at our Web site, www.staffordhamlet.org.
Do we save Stafford, pave it or something in between? Months of work have gone into designing a process, acceptable to both the pavers and the savers in our community, through which we hope to create this vision.
What are the options?
Here are just a few things for us to consider: Do we wish to become an Urban Reserve, a Rural Reserve or neither? Should Stafford be inside or outside the UGB? Do we want jobs and commerce or more shopping centers? Do we want to purchase open space or encourage new models of intensive agriculture on small plots? More vineyards and wineries perhaps? Do we want to develop a network of bicycle and hiking trails, perhaps equestrian trails? What about community gardens? What about roads and traffic? What about schools? What kind of housing, if any, is appropriate and where should it go?
Do we need urban services like sewer and water or do we continue to develop on five-acre rural lots with wells and septic? Who pays for this growth? Do we incorporate into our own city and develop at urban density or remain rural and create agreements with the county and neighboring cities to honor our vision?
What to be or not to be, that is now the question?
This is a very unique and exciting opportunity, and I urge everyone in the hamlet to make the time to get involved now.
To determine what our community is going to look like in 30 years, it is essential that every stakeholder in Stafford participate now.
I hope to see you soon.
Dave Adams lives in the Stafford Hamlet.