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Cornelius UGB bid is shut down by Metro

In 4-2 vote, regional government says that the city didn't prove an 'unanticipated need' for more industrial land

Metro council voted Thursday evening to deny an application from the city of Cornelius to expand its Urban Growth Boundary.

In a 4-2 decision, councilors said that while the city had made a good case, it had done so under the wrong procedure.

Cornelius City Manager Dave Waffle rode with other city leaders to Portland in a bus for the hearing. He said the ride home would be a sullen one.

'This is like the baseball team that got its clock cleaned 27-0,' Waffle said.

If Waffle's scorecard doesn't match Metro's, it might be because Cornelius officials felt they had come very close to snagging more industrial land, leaving them even more crestfallen Thursday night.

OFF-YEAR APPLICATION

Cornelius submitted an application to the regional government last year to bring 161 acres of 'exception' land into its Urban Growth Boundary, or UGB, which determines where development can occur.

The application came in an off-year, since Metro was granted a reprieve from considering the whole region's UGB in order to develop a new method for doing so.

But Metro councilors voted unanimously to allow the city to apply for a major amendment to their UGB, an ordinance that allows for expansions to accommodate needs that weren't anticipated in the previous planning process.

City officials were hopeful going into Thursday's meeting that they stood a chance with the council since an independent hearings officer, Richard Forester, had agreed with the city that the rapid pace of absorption in the region of industrial land, coupled with the legislative delay and a pressing local need for more buildable acres all added up to a good case for expansion.

Forester recommended that the council adopt the expansion, but the council ultimately disagreed.

'I haven't found anything in the facts or the legal arguments that say that industrial land need as unanticipated,' said councilor Robert Liberty.

Councilors also felt that by approving Cornelius' application, they'd be setting a precedent, essentially opening the door for Gresham, Hillsboro or any other city that felt its UGB was overly constrained to beg for relief from Metro.

Councilors Rod Park and Rex Burkholder said that in order to keep Metro from being in 'perpetual UGB mode,' the council needed to interpret the amendment process narrowly.

'640 people standing in a crowd in Damascus being angry at you isn't an experience that you want to have very often, once every 5 years is enough,' Burkholder said, referring to a contentious Metro decision that led the small Clackamas County city of Damascus to become the Portland-metro region's newest city.

Council President David Bragdon, who supported Cornelius' last bid for new industrial land north of town three years ago, said that the procedural issue was key to him.

Siding with the majority, Bragdon hoped that by narrowly construing what an unanticipated need was, the council could keep from constantly tussling in the same deep land use waters.

Or at least limit those tussles to the periodic review process, which will head into public hearings three years from now.

'Three years ago we were dealing with a lot of the same issues and I voted differently in those proceedings, three years from now I fear we'll be dealing with the same issues again,' Bragdon said.

But councilors Kathryn Harrington and Carlotta Collette disagreed.

Councilor Collette allowed that her reasoning might be derived from her lack of experience as a metro councilor, but said that it likely comes from her experience as a former Milwaukie city councilor.

Collette was impressed that industrial developers and Sheldon Manufacturing, which said it might leave the city if Cornelius couldn't produce a larger parcel of industrial land, stood side-by-side with the city to make its case.

'We really want to see projects like this happen, there is clear need in Cornelius, probably more than anywhere in the region,' Collette said.

Harrington, who represents most of Washington County on Metro, agreed. While she, too, was concerned about setting a precedent, she felt that the city had made its case.

Councilor Carl Hosticka was absent from the proceedings.

NEXT STEPS

Because of an error in the motion that was written for the meeting, Metro didn't vote outright to deny Cornelius' appeal Thursday night, instead, the council directed staff to prepare findings in anticipation of a vote to deny that the council will likely approve in April.

But Bragdon said it was unlikely any of the votes would change before the next (and final) step is taken.

While the April meeting will kick the ball out of Metro's court, the decision could still be appealed to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.

Waffle said that the city may appeal the decision, but will need to review the proceedings before it makes that decision.

Monetary concerns may stop the city from appealing as well. Waffle estimated that the city has already spent $10,000 in legal fees for the project.

Cornelius Planning Commissioner Sheila Griffie said that the argument Metro council made didn't make sense, rendering the Metro rules under which the city applied for an amendment a legislative conundrum.

'They said we made a good case,' Griffie said, 'but said they didn't want to approve our case because they didn't want to set a precedent.'

Dave Vanasche, of the Washington County Farm Bureau, opposed Cornelius' efforts to bring land north of Council Creek into the UGB.

The Farm Bureau has held the position that Council Creek is a natural buffer between agriculture and urban uses for years, but Vanasche wasn't joyously notching a victory Thursday night.

Instead, he said it's important for the Farm Bureau and the city to sort out another area where the city can expand.

'We need to find some way to help them satisfy their issue,' Vanasche said, 'but the location that we keep coming back to is the wrong location.'