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Council OKs forced annexation


Despite protests, Forest Grove officials will bring 23 unincorporated island properties into city limits

After years of “will they or won’t they?” the Forest Grove City Council this week finally voted its “islanders” into the city.

By a 5-1 vote, the council decided to annex 23 unincorporated parcels of property without their owners’ permission. The issue, however, may not be over, as two property owners told the News-Times they are looking into taking legal action to at least delay the proceedings.

The clusters of formerly rural properties — about 75 total acres of largely single-family homes and vacant lots — are inside the city limits but not governed by city ordinances or subject to the city’s higher property tax rate.

A dozen of the owners showed up at Monday’s council meeting to again voice their opposition to the city’s plans.

Like many of his unincorporated neighbors, Dwight Oberg said his current concerns far outweighed any potential benefits of being a city resident. "I ask you guys to back out, and leave us like we are now,” he told councilors.

From the city’s perspective, annexing the properties will make it easier to deliver police, fire and other services to the properties and allow for uniform code enforcement within the city limits. Currently, the unincorporated properties are served by the rural fire department, the county sheriff’s office and governed by county regulations.

Resistance focused primarily on three areas:

n Property taxes: The city levies its own property tax and an analysis shows annexation would result in annual tax bills increasing by up to $650 a year on a typical parcel. The higher tax bills would be offset by lower water fees which, in some instances, would result in overall savings for the property owners. (The city charges extra to provide city water outside its limits.) But many who spoke Monday said they’d pay more overall.

n Sewer fees: The unincorporated residences are served by septic systems. Should those septic systems fail, the newly-annexed city residents could be forced to pay thousands of dollars to hook up to the city’s sewer lines.

n Roads: Most of the properties are along poorly-maintained county roads and several of their owners said it was unfair to charge them higher taxes without fixing the roads.

Councilors and city officials countered that as city residents, the property owners would enjoy lower water rates, access to city services such as the aquatic center and a better chance at seeing street repairs and better lighting on their streets.

“If we aren’t able to include the islands it precludes our ability to plan for the improvements we all want to happen,” said Councilor Camille Miller. “Will they happen tomorrow? No. Will they happen next year? No. But we have to start somewhere.”

Linda Monte, who owns a home in the 2400 block of Hawthorne Street, wasn’t convinced.

“I could care less about the water bill. I could care less about the swimming pool,” she said. “We have no desire to go into the city because you don’t have anything to give us. You can make whatever decision you want. But I predict there will be war.”

Indeed, at least two property owners are considering legal action.

Rich Hudson, whose daughter and son-in-law live on an "island" property on Raymond Street, said his reading of state law is that because the properties are already considered residential by the county, the city must wait three years before forcibly annexing them (see story page A16). He told the News-Times Tuesday that he plans to to file an appeal, on behalf of his daughter, with the state Land Use Board of Appeals.

Ben Knaupp, who lives on the north side of Gales Creek Road, across from the Knox Ridge subdivision, asked councilors to exclude any property owner who had gone on the record to oppose annexation.

“There’s no requirement that these territories must be annexed in,” he said “Can those of us who object be taken off the list?”

Knaupp, a real estate lawyer who works in Hillsboro, also believes the city must give three years notice to the property owners. He told the News-Times he will look into the possibility of requesting a court injunction.

Questions about the three-year notice were enough for one councilor to balk at taking action now. Elena Uhing, who supports the annexation effort, voted against moving forward immediately. Supporting the annexation were Mayor Pete Truax and Councilors Miller, Tom Johnston, Ron Thompson and Richard Kidd. Councilor Victoria Lowe was absent.

City officials asked staff members to look into methods for helping newly-annexed property owners finance future sewer hook-ups and explore other options to help those who face financial hardships related to annexation.

They hope to finish their work by the end of March, so the newly-annexed properties can be added to next year’s tax rolls, bringing the city an estimated $72,000 in extra revenue.

City of Hillsboro

Four years ago, when the Hillsboro City Council brought several of its “island” properties inside the city limits, it made the annexations effective three years after the vote.

Forest Grove officials plan to move much more quickly, bringing the city’s newly-annexed properties inside the city limits within 30 days.

That difference in tactics was the subject of much discussion Monday night prior to the Forest Grove City Council’s annexation vote and resulted in Councilor Elena Uhing voting “no.”

Rich Hudson, whose daughter and son-in-law, live on an unincorporated parcel on Raymond Street, presented the council with a lengthy memo outlining his contention that Forest Grove, like Hillsboro, should have given property owners three years' notice.

At issue is a state law which says that if an “island” property is zoned for residential use and that zoning will continue after annexation, the city must notify property owners at least three years ahead of time. A 2009 staff memo to Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey summarized the law like this:

“Annexation of residentially zoned properties in residential use using ORS 222.750 (island annexation) requires delayed annexation which can take effect as soon as three years and as late as ten years from the date an ordinance is adopted.”

Hudson, who spent 26 years as a county planner in Washington, says he agrees that it is good policy to bring unincorporated properties inside city limits.

“Island annexation makes sense,” he told the News-Times. “But it’s got to be fair.”

To him, that includes a three-year notice.

Forest Grove City Attorney Chad Jacobs conceded that the state law creates some ambiguity. But he said that in Forest Grove, the properties in question have been zoned FD-10 by the county, meaning they are designated for future development. So although the properties have a residential use, they are not zoned residential.

Jacobs said that after talking to county officials, he believes the 30-day notice is sufficient. Uhing, unconvinced, voted against the annextion.

Hudson says he plans to appeal the city vote to a stand land-use panel.