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Cornelius hits snag in push for land

Hearing - Metro Council denies city's bid to expand its UGB

Cornelius' four-year push for more industrial land got a huge setback last week when the Metro Council voted to deny the city's application to expand its Urban Growth Boundary.

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

Cornelius City Manager Dave Waffle, who rode with other city leaders to Portland in a bus for the Thursday evening hearing, said the ride home was a somber 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.

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 Metro should allow it to bring more industrial land into Cornelius.

'If we don't bring this land in we're going to have sidewalks to nowhere,' pleaded Cornelius attorney Chris Crean, referring to a Washington County building project that hinged on a boundary expansion.

No urgency

A majority of Metro councilors, however, disagreed, saying that while the city made a good case for needing more industrial land, there's no urgency that warrants immediate action.

This was the second time Cornelius officials' efforts have been shot down by the regional governing body.

In 2004, Metro approved a 261-acre boundary expansion on Cornelius' north side to accommodate industrial growth. But a year later, the council reversed itself after hearing testimony from some farmers and land-use advocates who opposed the move..

Last year, Cornelius submitted a new application to bring 161 acres of land into its Urban Growth Boundary, or UGB, which determines where development can occur.

That application came just as Metro got permission to delay considering the whole region's UGB in order to develop a new method for doing so. Normally, such reviews are done every five years.

Because of the delay in the regional UGB assessment, Metro councilors voted unanimously to allow Cornelius to apply for a major UGB amendment, a process that allows for expansions to accommodate needs that weren't anticipated in the previous regional review.

But after allowing Cornelius to apply, the council turned down the request last week.

Councilors said 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 constrained to petition Metro for UGB amendments at any time.

Legal arguments

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

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.

Referring to a contentious Metro decision in 2005 that earmarked the small Clackamas County town of Damascus as the region's newest city, Burkholder said, '640 people standing being angry at you isn't an experience that you want to have very often. Once every five years is enough.'

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

Siding with the majority, Bragdon said he hoped that by narrowly interpreting what an unanticipated need is, the council could keep from constantly revisiting the same land-use issues.

Or at least limit those visits 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, saying Cornelius should be allowed to expand its boundary to create more industrial land.

Collette, the newest member of the seven-member council, said her reasoning might be derived from her lack of experience as a Metro councilor. But she also said it was influenced by her experience as a former Milwaukie city councilor.

Collette said she 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, backed the city's request.

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

Harrington, whose district includes most of Washington County, said that although 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.

Waffle said that Cornelius may appeal the decision to the state Land-Use Board of Appeals but will need to review the proceedings before that decision is made.

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 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 long argued that Council Creek is a natural buffer between agriculture and urban uses, but Vanasche wasn't joyously notching a victory Thursday night.

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

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

Forest Grove Mayor Richard Kidd, who supported Cornelius' application, said Metro's refusal might fuel an effort by both cities to regain local planning control.

That would need the blessing of the Oregon Legislature, but Kidd said it would allow both cities to regain a balance of land for jobs and housing.

'It's important that we have that balance, without having someone on the east side of Portland telling us how we should live,' Kidd said, referring to Metro.

'We've learned to live with that and we're at the table and continue to work with them but it continues to backfire on us,' Kidd said.