City hits snag with Luscher Farm proposal
Questions from the county and neighboring cities hold up the process
Lake Oswego officials would like to keep offering residents a place to grow tomatoes at Luscher Farm. They'd like to offer classes on growing tomatoes too. They also hope to build a new indoor tennis center at a site known as the Rassekh property, just west of the farm in the Stafford area.
But these activities push the limits of what's allowed there. Community gardens, food- and plant-related education programs, tours and classes - all popular activities at Luscher Farm - aren't actually farming, which is what the land is zoned for.
As a result, Lake Oswego officials are pushing to bring 93 acres of the city-owned farm and its surrounding properties into the urban growth boundary, the invisible line limiting sprawl into outlying farms and forests. The Lake Oswego City Council recently voted to apply to Metro, the regional government, for an expansion of the UGB.
However, in recent weeks, the city has struggled to overcome some snags in the process.
Officials from Tualatin, West Linn and Clackamas County are leery of supporting Lake Oswego's proposal. And it's unclear what a Metro requirement for 'concept planning' future urban areas actually requires.
'That's where we're hung up,' Lake Oswego Long-Range Planning Director Denny Egner told city staff members and elected leaders from Lake Oswego, Tualatin, West Linn and Clackamas County on April 11, when the group sat down to discuss the UGB amendment process. 'We need the commitment, the approval of county commissioners of some sort of concept plan for our proposal to process."
Egner said the idea is to designate the farmlands as parks. He doesn't believe the city needs to take on the arduous task of creating a concept plan for all of Stafford. The farm properties are at the northern tip of what is often called the Stafford Triangle, a nearly 4,000-acre area between Lake Oswego, Tualatin and West Linn.
'It's really almost a self-contained kind of process here,' Egner said. 'I don't think there are a lot of neighboring impacts.'
Instead, he sees the Luscher area as an exception to the agreement between the county and Metro, which laid out provisions to meet before Stafford could come inside the urban growth boundary. Requirements include coordination with neighboring cities, conceptual planning to ensure the Borland area becomes a town center serving the rest of Stafford and recognition of the Stafford Hamlet's vision statement, which aims to avoid a piecemeal approach to development.
'I think we had the assumption this piece is so unique it has very little impact on the rest of it,' Egner said.
No one at the meeting expressed a problem with designating the Luscher properties as parks. At the same time, officials weren't thrilled with the idea of diving into an involved planning process - much less doing it on Lake Oswego's timeline.
Clackamas County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Charlotte Lehan said she agreed Luscher Farm seemed like an exception.
'Its future use in terms of parkland is already determined,' she said. 'Whether the whole area turns into San Francisco or stays rural, it's still going to be parkland.'
But county commissioners are worried Lake Oswego will 'check out' of future planning efforts if its needs are already fully met.
'They're concerned Lake Oswego would be less motivated to be an active participant in this higher-level concept planning,' Lehan said.
She also wants to ensure community-based planning efforts of the Stafford Hamlet are considered and that new processes are figured out.
'We're caught between the fear of what the hamlet refers to as 'nibbling away at the edges' or 'creeping in on things' without a full plan,' Lehan said, 'and on the other hand, the interpretation that we have to concept-plan this whole massive area from Wilsonville to Lake Oswego. … What we're all trying to do is find a middle ground.'
Meanwhile, the cities of West Linn and Tualatin are fighting Metro's slating of Stafford for future urbanization. Their appeal has not yet been resolved.
'We don't want to take any position that would affect the way our litigation proceeds,' West Linn Mayor John Kovash said. 'We're in kind of an uncomfortable position. What we want to say is, basically, nothing.'
He also doesn't believe a feasible Stafford concept plan will ever be agreed to because of the high costs of building new roads and extending other infrastructure.
'West Linn would be quite concerned if we're looking at the concept in pieces,' Kovash added.
Although he hasn't heard complaints about using the Luscher sites for park activities, Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden said he wasn't willing to take a position, either.
'Off the top of my head, the relative use of that land - and you bought it for the purpose of that being a park - doesn't affect Tualatin substantially that I'm aware of, unless you bring in busloads of people during rush hour for competitions or regional play and tie up Wankers Corner,' he told Lake Oswego officials.
At the same time, Tualatin is 'squarely on the bus with West Linn,' Ogden said, noting he worried about setting a bad precedent if Lake Oswego moved ahead without neighboring cities' support.
Lake Oswego residents have also questioned the city's proposal, in part because a master plan for Luscher-area properties is still in the works.
Lake Oswego Parks and Recreation Director Kim Gilmer said last week that the plan is in the refinement stages, and at this point, it includes the same urban agriculture activities now taking place, as well as one or two new sports fields.
Clackamas County Planning Director Mike McCallister confirmed 'exclusive farm use' zoning, which applies to most of the Luscher Farm land, 'is very restrictive.'
'There are a number of activities occurring there that aren't consistent,' he said. Activities such as community-supported agriculture might count as farming. 'Once you work up to classes and ball fields, those aren't allowed under state law.'
Lake Oswego Mayor Jack Hoffman noted some of the city's urgency stems from the council's 2012 goal to move ahead with building a new indoor tennis center. The proposed location, at Stafford Road and Atherton Drive, must be brought inside the urban growth boundary for that to happen.
'We could spend five years or 15 years coordinating, and we'd still get to the same place,' Hoffman said. 'The question is, is there a path with the county that can get us to 'yes' between now and 154 days from now, or is this exercise going nowhere?'
Dan Chandler, the county's strategic policy administrator, responded that the ideal 'path' would involve Lake Oswego approaching planning commissioners, the Stafford Hamlet and other stakeholders to begin mapping out a process for planning in the area.
He noted additional conversations between these groups could be useful as Metro reworks population estimates. It looks like the government will call for the eventual creation of 37,000 new homes in Stafford to absorb population growth.
'There may be some utility in the county and surrounding cities having a discussion … about what is actually realistic at any point in the future,' Chandler said.
Lehan agreed. 'The reality is that the likelihood nothing happens in Stafford-Borland is highly unlikely,' she said. 'It's going to be something, and I'm hoping it's not 37,000 dwelling units.'