Cornelius, Forest Grove officials mum on specifics

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - A farmer works his land in South Hillsboro, much of which is likely to be converted into housing under a planning process that has been under way for many years.Lawmakers in Salem are rushing to complete a so-called “land use grand bargain” before the 2014 Oregon Legislature ends on March 5.

The agreement is intended to resolve the uncertainty produced by a recent Oregon Court of Appeals ruling that rejected a 50-year land use plan for the metropolitan area. Approving the grand bargain could be one of the most significant accomplishments of the legislative session and could affect development plans in Cornelius and Forest Grove.

Failing to approve it would undermine development plans that have been in the works for years and reinforce the impression that Oregon’s vaunted land-use planning system is turning into a bureaucratic quagmire.

A breakthrough was reached Sunday after days of intense negotiations involving state and local officials, conservationists and farmers. It is intended to ratify portions of previously approved urban and rural reserves and subsequent urban growth boundary expansions based on them.

“It was an opportunity for everyone to start over — a legislatively convened out of court settlement,” said state Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem), who led the negotiations.

The agreement applies only to Washington County. Details are expected to be released this week in Salem.

“I believe we have a framework for a deal. The [court] decision created uncertainty, and the agreement is intended to preserve both the best farmland and the best economic development opportunities,” said state Rep. Ben Unger (D-Hillsboro), who was active in the negotiations.

“This is a good compromise for agriculture, residential and industrial interests in the county, and brings certainty to important decisions,” said Washington County Chair Andy Duyck, who participated in the negotiations.

City officials in Cornelius and Forest Grove were tight-lipped about the negotiations, although Cornelius City Manager Rob Drake hinted his city might be able to bring some urban-reserve land inside the urban growth boundary where it could be developed.

Forest Grove Community Development Director Jon Holan said the legislative bargain could affect urban reserves south of Purdin Road, an area which drew a lot of attention during the initial reserve-designation process.

The negotiations involved parties from all sides, including state legislators and representatives of Metro, all three counties, and land-use watchdogs such as 1000 Friends of Oregon and Save Helvetia, a grassroots group fighting to preserve farmland in rural Washington County. Also present was Richard Whitman, Gov. John Kitzhaber’s natural resources policy director.

A bill in the House Rules Committee will be used as the vehicle for the compromise. Public hearings will be held on HB 4078 before the committee and, potentially, the full Legislature votes on it.

Adding to the pressure, legislators must reach consensus during heated elections in Washington County, where the court decision threatens to stall development plans that have been in the works for years in Beaverton and Hillsboro. There, land use issues could shift the balance of power on the county commission this year.

Within hours of the decision being released Feb. 20, two challengers were using it in their campaigns. Activist Allen Amabisca and former First District Oregon Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse issued statements blaming it on pro-development county leaders. Amabisca is running against Duyck and Furse is challenging Washington County Commissioner Bob Terry.

The court ruling concerned urban and rural reserves approved by Metro and the state Land Consersation and Development Commission in 2011.

Metro officials asked the Legislature for approval to designate the reserves in 2007. The idea was to add certainty to the land-use planning process by identifying where growth could and could not occur for the next 50 years, with urban reserves as the “could” and rural reserves the “could not.”

The Legislature agreed and Metro spent the next three years working with Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas counties to identify the reserves.

The final plan was adopted in 2011 and quickly challenged in the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Later that year, Metro also approved a series of urban growth boundary decisions. They were all within the previously approved urban reserves. The majority — approximately 2,000 acres — were in Washington County. They included two areas being planned for residential development — South Cooper Mountain in Beaverton and South Hillsboro, which Hillsboro plans to annex when the planning is complete. The boundary was also expanded to include a new industrial area called North Hillsboro.

The boundary expansions were essentially invalidated when the appeals court rejected the urban and rural reserves plan in the Feb. 20 ruling, in spite of the work being done by Beaverton and Hillsboro.

Despite the focus on Washington County, the court ruled mistakes were made in the other counties, too. Multnomah County did not justify designating much of its undeveloped land between Portland and Beaverton as rural reserves. It include a 62-acre parcel adjacent to the North Bethany residential area that the owners want to sell for development. And the court found Clackamas County did not explain why the Stafford area should be designated an urban reserve when it is already facing growing congestion problems.

Legislators were already talking about intervening in the controversy before the court issued its ruling. State Rep. John Davis (R-Wilsonville) introduced a bill in the 2014 Oregon Legislature to ratify the boundary expansions. Unger raised the idea of ratifying some but not others.

And Clem (D-Salem) prepared a map of the region where compromises could be made. The idea was strongly opposed by Metro and the Washington County Commission. But according to Clem, all that changed when the appeals court remanded the reserves back to Metro and invalidated the expansions.

Clem’s role in the negotiations is surprising, considering his district is outside the region. A fifth-generation Oregonian, he was first elected to the House in 2006. But Clem said he has long been interested in land-use planning issues, and personally experienced the struggle between maintaining farmland in the face of development pressures after marrying into a Hood River agricultural family. He chairs the House Rural Communities Committee.

Clem said his desire to find a land-use compromise this session stems from his experiences during the 2011 Oregon Legislature, when the House was evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

“Up until then, I had been very partisan,” he said. “But in 2011, the only way to get anything accomplished was to work with the other side. I learned that accommodating different points of view leads to better results. It was a transformational experience.”

Davis missed the negotiations because he was on paternity leave from the session after the birth of his second son. He returned this week, just in time for the final efforts to pass his amended bill before the session ends.

“It will be a real accomplishment if it passes,” he said. “It will bring certainty to Washington County for many years to come.”

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