Lake Oswego ponders bringing Luscher Farm area into the city

To continue enjoying the gardening and educational activities local residents love at Luscher Farm, they might need to do something that seems a bit counterintuitive.

They might need to move the farm into the city.

That's according to Kim Gilmer, parks director in Lake Oswego, which owns the farm along with a handful of other properties outside of city limits.

'A majority of properties we own outside the urban growth boundary are zoned 'exclusive farm use,'' Gilmer recently told the Lake Oswego City Council. 'Exclusive farm use means you do agriculture, farming.

'Community gardens aren't farming. The organic education center, which is focused on farming, isn't farming. The classes we offer at the children's garden ¾ all of our organic programs ¾ aren't farming. They're farming-related, but they're not farming. … We're in a gray area.'

Bringing Luscher inside of the urban growth boundary would allow Lake Oswego to keep offering the farm-related activities it does now, but it would be able to do so 'legitimately,' Gilmer said.

For now, the council is not pursuing an expansion of the urban growth boundary this year. But the topic will likely come up again ¾ after an update to the long-range Luscher master plan, now in the works, is complete.

Until then, city officials will continue to walk a tightrope to balance the public's desire to use the properties and the limitations set on the land's use because of zoning, which is enforced by Clackamas County.

Farm technically in West Linn

The city bought Luscher Farm in 1991 with money from voter-approved bond measures. An agreement with Rudie Luscher let him continue living there and using the property until he died in 1997. Though it sits just south of Lake Oswego, the farm, on Rosemont Road, is technically in West Linn.

Lake Oswego owns a total of 136 acres of parks land outside of city limits, including Steven's Meadow, Hazelia Field, Firlane farm, the Rassekh, Crowell and Brock properties and the popular Luscher complex, which features a historic farmhouse and barn, community garden plots, an Oregon Tilth demonstration garden the Rogerson Clematis Collection and more.

Without special permits, Lake Oswego can't extend water and sewer services to most of its rural properties, which means portable toilets must be rented to accommodate visitors at the farm, according to information given to the city council.

Only agricultural equipment and supplies can be stored in the farming zone, and so the city can't keep parks maintenance equipment there, despite the acreage of parks and open space it owns nearby. No one can rent the space for special occasions such as weddings or meetings.

Some residents hope Luscher

remains a rural farm

Even so, some residents of Lake Oswego and West Linn are wary of the possibility that Luscher Farm might cross the urban-rural line.

Lake Oswego resident Kathe Worsley spoke in favor of keeping tighter controls on what sorts of events and activities are allowed at the farm at a recent Lake Oswego City Council meeting.

'I am against bringing large portions of Luscher Farm into the UGB because it runs contrary to what the majority of citizens want,' she said. 'We want it left agricultural and rural.'

Worsley said residents wouldn't want it to become a 'tacky tourist destination' or wedding venue.

'We love our farm,' she said. 'We love the healthy lifestyle it generates for all ages. We want it to be preserved for our children's future.'

Worsley also believes city leaders should allow more public input ¾ 'like a vote, please?' she told council members ¾ and more time to consider the implications of bringing Luscher inside the urban growth boundary.

'What's the rush? This is beyond offensive,' she said.

West Linn resident Lynn Fox also voiced concern about whether Lake Oswego leaders will give citizens enough time to evaluate Luscher Farm's future.

'The citizens I've spoken with feel the speed with which this is being approached is a betrayal,' said Fox. Among her worries: 'It concerns me to see the way that property is being used for what appear to be nonagrarian events.'

Rick Cook lives on Stafford Road in Lake Oswego, right by Luscher Farm. He urged councilors to hold off on making a request to bring the property inside the urban growth boundary until next year, especially given the city's ongoing work to develop a new parks master plan and Luscher-area master plan. Those documents will map a vision for the area's long-term development.

'We need to make sure we have the right game plan for that area,' said Cook, whose land has been in his family for more than 110 years.

When the parks department has sought permits for nonfarm uses in the past, such as in the 1990s, when Lake Oswego applied to run an environmental education and historical program at Luscher Farm, the county shot down the requests, Gilmer said. An attempt to gain approval of a similar concept also failed, she said.

Celebrations like centennial

'unlikely' again in future

After being allowed to host some major events at the farm last summer, when Lake Oswego held its centennial celebration, the county sent a letter suggesting it was unlikely to support such events in the future.

'They are just doing their job of trying to balance the different zoning requirements around the county,' Gilmer said of the county planning staff. But she isn't sure how long parks events can push the limits at Luscher Farm.

That's why she approached the city council after learning Metro, the regional government, was considering requests from cities interested in bumping out their boundaries in preparation for a regional UGB expansion at the end of the year.

The city could offer a public process after submitting the request and could withdraw the request if necessary, Gilmer said.

'Ideally, it would be nice to have a Luscher Farm master plan approved by the council and then we would have a thoughtful approach to moving forward,' she said. 'But at this point, we thought the opportunities of taking this step now outweighed waiting.'

The next opportunity to apply to Metro is in February and March of 2012.

The main disadvantage to waiting, officials said, is the risk of having to develop a concept plan for the entire Stafford area.

City staff hopes to bring 97 acres of rural land inside UGB

If Metro approves proposed urban reserves this year, it's unclear whether Lake Oswego will be able to bring just a slice of an urban reserve in Stafford into the growth boundary.

That means the regional government could require planning for governance of the larger area, a more expensive endeavor, said Dennis Egner, Lake Oswego's long-range planning manager.

The north Stafford area identified for future urbanization is roughly 1,500 acres. City staff members hope to bring only 97 acres of rural land inside the boundary.

'It's planned for park use; every intention is park use,' Egner said. 'But we'd have to go through this larger planning effort that might consider how the whole larger portion (of the north Stafford basin) is being planned.'

Council members opted to wait.

'It's a planning issue that involves changing policy in the comprehensive plan,' said Councilor Mary Olson, explaining city policies oppose expanding the existing urban services boundary. 'I think it's highly inappropriate to do this at this time, before our parks and Luscher Farm master plans are done.'

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