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Councils can now OK certain annexations without voter approval

Governor signs bill that pits home builders and property owners against many cities, including Lake Oswego


GAZETTE FILE PHOTO: RAY PITZ - While not as numerous as signs supporting the measure, No on the Brookman Annexation signs could be seen around town.A measure signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown last week allows city councils across the state — including in Lake Oswego — to bypass local requirements for voter approval of some types of property annexations.

The measure, Senate Bill 1573, was signed by Brown after it cleared the House on a 32-28 vote on the final day of the 2016 session. Both parties were split, but 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans voted for it.

The bill would affect 34 cities in Oregon, including 11 in the Portland metro area:

-- Clackamas County: Canby, Estacada, Lake Oswego, Molalla, Oregon City, Sandy and West Linn.

-- Washington County: Banks, King City, North Plains and Sherwood.

The political tug-of-war behind the bill goes back two decades, pitting home builders and property owners against citizen advocates and cities. Realtors were for it, the Oregon Farm Bureau against it. Lake Oswego city officials also opposed the legislation.

Both sides agree: The political catalyst for the bill was Sherwood voters’ rejection four months ago of a 102-acre annexation south of Southwest Brookman Road, just past city limits. It was the third such voter rejection.

But under terms of the bill signed last week, city councils no longer need voter approval for annexations if several conditions are met: agreement by 100 percent of the landowners involved; at least one lot abutting current city limits or a right of way; and compliance with the city comprehensive land use plan and other ordinances.

All of those requirements would have been met by the Sherwood annexation.

Pro and con

David Hunnicutt, president of the property-rights group Oregonians in Action, says annexation should be routine for landowners whose property is already within a city’s urban growth boundary but happens to be outside city limits.

Cities routinely require annexation as a condition of extending such services as streets, water and sewer lines.

“In cities with voter annexation requirements, it throws a huge monkey wrench in the ability of those properties to develop,” Hunnicutt said in his testimony to a Senate committee. “What happens is that a technical issue with infrastructure becomes a thumbs-up or thumbs-down vote.”

But Erin Doyle, who testified for the League of Oregon Cities, says it’s a matter of local control.

“It is our position that the Legislature should not be interrupting the charters of cities,” she said after the bill’s final vote. “By reaching in and saying that we should not abide by city charters, the bill puts these cities in a difficult position of being unable to abide by their governance structure.”

City officials in Lake Oswego agree, saying SB 1573 will allow developers to override the city’s charter requirement for voter approval of annexation. City Manager Scott Lazenby asked Reps. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn) and Ann Lininger (D-Lake Oswego) to oppose the bill, which they did.

“In our case, this charter requirement only applies to property in the ‘Stafford Triangle’ area south of Lake Oswego’s current city limits,” Lazenby said. “Our citizens have strong feelings about the possible urbanization of this area, even if Metro eventually includes it in its urban growth boundary. They would be justifiably upset if the state government summarily removed their local home rule authority over their right to vote on annexation of property in this area.”

Contested annexations by landowners and so-called “island” annexations are not impacted by the new law; both will still be subject to voter approval in cities with such requirements.

“I’m personally very pleased that it passed,” Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay said of the bill. “I have been very public about saying that I regret what I consider to be an error of my youth that I campaigned for voter-approved annexation in Oregon City,” which imposed the requirement in 1999.

Upon approval by the governor, he added, “With voter-approved annexations not being the law of the land anymore, we can plan it, zone it and make something happen on the edges of the city.”

‘Wrongly decided’

The issue dates back decades, when Oregon courts upheld voter decisions to require city elections on annexations. Corvallis was the first, back in 1977; at least 25 cities added them in the 1990s.

Home builders have been trying since then to persuade lawmakers to override the courts.

“That is exactly what this bill does,” said Jon Chandler of the Oregon Home Builders Association.

“It overturns a series of court cases that found in a sort of logic that only a fool’s lawyer could have concocted a distinction between a land-use action of annexation — which is governed by city code — and the political act of voting on annexation. I think those cases were wrongly decided.”

Although similar proposals have surfaced in past sessions, the impetus for the current bill was the election in Sherwood, where approval of Measure 34-242 would have brought into the city 13 parcels that could have resulted in up to 250 single-family homes.

The co-owner of one of those parcels is Carleen Brewer, who submitted a statement to the Senate committee.

“I think the problem with a public vote on this (annexation) is that small opposition groups are hard campaigning and very vocal, whereas others are ambivalent and don’t even bother to vote,” Brewer wrote. “Now that three elections have passed, the need for housing continues and is getting rather dire.”

A spokesman for Oregon Communities for a Voice in Annexations said the current bill has a “sordid history” that dates back at least two decades.

‘Sordid history’

“Our biggest problem with this has been the backroom deal that created it,” said Jerry Ritter of Springfield, secretary of the group, who’s been involved in the cause for almost 25 years. “Its supporters knew about it; we did not. It was clearly a done deal before being started.”

Supporters said SB 1573 was part of a broader legislative package intended to deal with the soaring cost of housing, particularly in the Portland metropolitan area.

Home builders’ lobbyist Chandler said that while Oregon’s land use planning program requires a 20-year supply of land to accommodate population and economic growth, that amount is far less when land within urban growth boundaries but outside city limits have no services such as water and sewer lines.

But the League of Women Voters of Oregon took issue with that stance.

“The current system does not require that properties come into cities at the whim of developers or property owners,” said the statement by Peggy Lynch and Norman Turrill. “The current system assumes that local governments and their communities have local control to determine their destiny.”

Eric Squires of Aloha was among those who submitted opposition testimony.

“SB 1573 enables development interests to revoke decisions made by citizens,” Squires wrote.

Ray Pitz, Raymond Rendleman and Gary M. Stein contributed to this story. Contact Peter Wong at 503-580-0266 or pwong@PamplinMedia.com.

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