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Council zoning vote ignores jobs

The Portland City Council's hurried but unanimous decision on Sept. 17 to oppose changing the open space zoning of Northeast Portland's Colwood National Golf Course to industrial land was not surprising. But it certainly was disheartening.

Private owners of the 138-acre public golf course had proposed to rezone much of the economically sagging course and develop the site into a mixture of industrial and public uses.

About one-third of the land, which is next to the Portland International Airport, was to be sold to the Port of Portland. Another 22 acres near the Columbia Slough would be donated to the city for park and habitat land.

The balance of the site - 69 acres - would be designated for new industrial uses that could have supported up to 2,000 new jobs.

Undeniably, the development of land for industry or traded-sector employment would have been a boon to a city with a skimpy inventory of attractive industrial sites.

Because of its shortage of available industrial land, Portland relies on Hillsboro, Vancouver, Wash., Clackamas, Gresham and even Salem as sites for major employers to consider locating.

Council's choice is unimaginative

Colwood would have made great economic and public infrastructure sense: It's close to the airport, rail and marine connections, Interstate 205, public transit and an urban workforce that would have enjoyed a short commute.

At least for now, that won't happen. The council, minus Mayor Tom Potter, made the fairly predictable choice of maintaining the status quo. City Commissioners Nick Fish and Sam Adams supported the decision. 'Historic,' Fish said. Meanwhile, Adams called the golf course's open space 'irreplaceable.'

The council's vote is not difficult to understand. It would have been politically and environmentally difficult to permit even a privately held golf course to be turned into a mixed location of jobs, industrial development and open space. That's the kind of decision made in other cities, not Portland.

But even in voting to oppose a zone change, the council did not determine how the privately held golf course could become publicly owned open space. Going forward, that question requires an answer. Otherwise, the golf course's owner and the public will be left hanging.

Industry backs public services, livability

But we also think it's time that the city and Metro place significant emphasis on providing for land sites within Portland that could serve industry and major employers. Such attention needs to occur now.

Waiting will mean that major employers will look elsewhere. Valuable new jobs - located near where people live and with access to existing public infrastructure - will be lost.

Doing nothing results in costly losses for a city, region and state dependent on consistent levels of employment to ensure income taxes to pay for schools and other public services.

Mayor-elect Sam Adams and the City Council can encourage a quality community and attention to Portland's urban environment by learning from the Colwood case that there are ways to balance the economy and the environment.

Without such balanced attention and investment, the city will suffer economically - leaving it with less money to invest in the environment and community livability.