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Metro councilor gets an earful in Cornelius

Contrite - Kathryn Harrington says she understands officials' frustration with the regional government
by: Chase Allgood, Cornelius City Council laid out a bevy of concerns about the city’s relationship with Metro on Monday to Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington (foreground, right) following a vote by the regional government to deny the city’s bid to expand its Urban Growth Boundary.

Cornelius city councilors unloaded a fusillade of frustration Monday night with how the city's bid to expand its Urban Growth Boundary was handled by Metro, the regional government.

'Why even waste our city's time if they're not even going to listen to us?' asked Councilor Steve Heinrich.

Councilors denounced the process that ultimately led to last month's 4-2 vote by Metro against the city's proposal to add 161 acres of industrial land north of town.

'You don't demand respect, you have to earn it, and they didn't earn any respect from me that day,' said Councilor Bob Ferrie. 'I won't go to Metro again. It's a waste of my time.'

The occasion for the council's venting was a quarterly visit from Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington, who got credit for not coming down with a convenient case of flu.

'It took a certain amount of guts to come out here when you did,' joked Councilor Brad Coffey.

Harrington, who represents Forest Grove, Cornelius and parts of Beaverton and Hillsboro at Metro, voted for Cornelius' UGB expansion, and said she was sympathetic to the city's frustrations.

'I know it's disappointing,' Harrington said.

Mayor Bill Bash said he was upset by the argument made by the majority of Metro councilors that approving Cornelius' application outside the normal UGB review process would set a precedent.

'So few cities have even bothered to try something like we did this last time,' Bash said. Standing on precedent, 'that reasoning, it bothered me a lot,' he added.

No move

Councilor Jeffrey Dalin worried that a different kind of precedent was set in the Metro chambers: that the growth boundary won't be moved in western Washington County.

'My fear is that we're going to put a clamp on Forest Grove and Cornelius that will prevent people in this area from growing into their vision,' Dalin said.

With two landowners interested in converting their property into a small-scale industrial park, Dalin said, Cornelius had made the best possible case for expansion.

Dalin added that Metro's decision could ignite another property-rights battle. He noted that critics of planned growth and the UGB propelled Measure 37 into law by using examples of landowners who couldn't build houses or change the way they used their land because of over-restrictive planning rules.

'We had some interested landowners who wanted to make a change in their property under this last land decision and now they don't know what they're going to do moving forward,' he said. 'This is what Measure 37 was about.'

But pro-planning groups like 1000 Friends of Oregon and the Oregon Farm Bureau rallied to the cause of Measure 49, which reinstated many of the restrictions that Measure 37 sidestepped. Measure 49 was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2007.

Those same groups have consistently opposed expanding Cornelius' UGB to the north.

Mayor Bash said that in 2005, when Metro reversed a previous decision to add 261 acres of rural land to the city's UGB, those groups prevailed.

'1000 Friends and Farm Bureau seemed to have more influence than we did,' the mayor said. 'They seemed able to trump stuff that we were doing at that time.'

Dalin said that he thought residents on the east side of Metro had an unrealistic view of what western Washington County is really like.

'People look at this and say this is all rolling timberland, or multi-acre farms,' he said. 'But get in the car. It's not like that.'

Filling up lots

Dalin said that as Hillsboro's industrial base continues to grow, workers who don't want to live in Orenco condos will continue to fill up lots in Forest Grove and Cornelius.

But without an industrial tax base to balance the new housing developments, Dalin said, homeowners are carrying an unsustainable tax burden.

Dalin said the solution was to bring in more industrial landowners who can help pay for schools and services.

'That's the help that all of us out on the western Washington County side need,' Dalin said.

Without more industry, Heinrich added, Cornelius will be stuck where it is.

Bash suggested that being stuck wouldn't be a new experience for Cornelius.

'Over all this time that Metro has been in existence, this community has been a distressed community,' he noted. 'We haven't had a lot of resources given to us to address these problems. I think they've had long enough to address something by now.'