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Land use deal should get a green light

Oregon Gov. Tom McCall once said, “Oregon is demure and lovely, and it ought to play a little hard to get. And I think you’ll be just as sick as I am if you find it is nothing but a hungry hussy, throwing herself at every stinking smokestack that’s offered.”

The middle ground alluded to by McCall is at the heart of the Legislature’s land use “grand bargain” that must be resolved prior to the body proclaiming “sine die” March 5.

Last week, Oregon’s Court of Appeals effectively derailed a land use plan that would have outlined urban and rural development in the metropolitan area for the next 50 years. This was after Metro and the Oregon Land Conservation & Development Commission approved the urban and rural reserves in question in 2011. Shortly after the plan was approved, it was challenged in the Oregon Court of Appeals.

The court rejected the plan, citing three key problems:

First, the court questioned why Clackamas County had designated the Stafford area as an urban reserve — a logical question when you consider the area is projected to have a massive increase in traffic by 2035.

Second, the court’s ruling pointed out that Multnomah County had failed to meet its legal requirements in considering whether areas of the Tualatin Mountains should be rural reserves.

But it’s the third area that caused the most concern. Washington County’s seemingly devil-may-care approach to what county officials designated as urban and rural preserves caused the court to reject the plan.

As Chief Judge Rick Haselton wrote in his ruling: “Because the designation of urban and rural reserves are interrelated — particularly where Foundation Agricultural Land is involved — on remand, LCDC must, in turn, remand Washington County’s reserves designation as a whole for reconsideration.”

Haselton went on to point out that LCDC must “remand the entire submittal to Metro and the counties so that they can ultimately assess whether any new joint designation, in its entirety, satisfies that standard.”

It should be understood that as frustrating as the process may be, this is how the system is supposed to work. Decisions are made, the public is informed, and if the public doesn’t like the decision, they have the right to appeal the decision in a court of law.

The problem is that when it comes to land development, the amount of time it takes to get approval for urban growth expansion is unrealistic. Population and business growth don’t proceed on anything that could be considered a timely and predictable schedule. Unfortunately, when the need arises, it often takes more than a decade to get approval for that urban growth. By that time, the needs have changed, in all likelihood. Hence, the need for a long-term plan that would provide predictability for all parties involved.

Enter the Oregon Legislature.

According to Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem), after lengthy meetings this past weekend between developers, conservationists and government leaders, an agreement was reached that would allow the plan to go forward.

“This is a good compromise for agriculture, residential and industrial interests in the county,” said Washington County Chairman Andy Duyck, “and brings certainty to future urban and rural land decisions.”

Even Jason Miner, executive director of 1000 Friends of Oregon, supported the plan.

“We have historically opposed the Legislature making land use decisions,” Miner said, “but this is an exception situation and a chance to restore the balance to the land use planning system that the Legislature intended.”

That, in itself, is why the Legislature should proceed with all possible haste on this issue. It is critical that Metro be allowed to expand the urban growth boundary for residential and industrial development as the need arises. If land for housing and industrial development isn’t available, it threatens the business, residential and, yes, even the educational infrastructure of the counties involved. If the Legislature doesn’t move forward, it could threaten any growth for years to come.

When Oregon pioneered land use regulation in the 1970s, it wasn’t without its share of detractors. However, those same laws that have protected this state have become unwieldy in this modern age. The Legislature has the opportunity to show some resolve by approving this grand bargain. What’s more, legislators should recognize the system has become unworkable and appoint a commission to find a way to fix the process so these last-minute resolutions aren’t needed.

Oregon should remain demure and lovely, as Gov. McCall so succinctly put it, and shouldn’t throw itself at every stinking smokestack, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

What’s needed is a clear path forward for Oregon’s future.



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