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The sensitive lands program is broken


The Lake Oswego City Council held a study session on June 18 about Metro’s response to the city’s proposal to revise sensitive lands. During the discussion, City Manager Tom Coffee said that the sensitive lands program is “broken” and should have been fixed “... five, eight or 10 years ago.”

Jokingly, Mayor (Kent) Studebaker asked him where he’s been all this time and why he hadn’t helped fix it before. Mr. Coffee quipped that he “didn’t have four votes.” Unfortunately, even with five favorable votes, the struggle to fix this very broken program continues.

At issue is the city’s approach for compliance with Metro’s Title 3 water quality regulations. Lake Oswego created a compliance approach that overregulates upland treed areas and some small drainage with severe land use restrictions in exchange for lesser regulation on some of the larger water areas identified by Metro in the mid-1990s as significant water resources (defined as rivers, natural lakes, streams that drain 100 acres or more, wetlands).

During the study session, there was discussion that to fix the sensitive lands trade of trees and small drainage, the city would have to apply sensitive lands to other property. (The proposal is for that to be public property that contains significant streams, wetlands and trees, but Metro disagrees.) And, now, it seems that despite the council’s March 19 motion to remove sensitive lands from all private residential property and fix this unfair trade, there is hesitation to do so.

For the 9 percent of citizens whose properties comprise the 203 acres in question (3 percent of all the land in the city), being overregulated so that other areas of the community can have less regulation is an unacceptable burden.

And, while the city has gone to great effort to try to convince the community that sensitive lands protect the most environmentally sensitive areas of our community and is necessary for the community’s water quality, it just isn’t true. Any sensible person can look at the sensitive lands map and see that the 203 acres of sensitive lands on private backyards scattered around the edges of the community are not going to impact water quality one bit. But for the arbitrarily selected property owners, this overregulation has resulted in lost sales, lost value, loss of use and enjoyment of backyards.

And, while there is finally a sensible, reasonable, respectful, more environmentally sound proposal to fix the broken program, Metro is behaving more like a bully than a partner and is doing all it can to confound and stall any change. We suspect this has a lot to do with the fact that Metro uses a similar trade approach for the region in order to achieve it’s 2040 growth plan that promotes transit-oriented, dense development in environmentally sensitive areas like Portland’s South Waterfront floodplain and LO’s Foothills floodplain. (Remember that Metro financially supported the Foothills proposal to build 90-foot-tall buildings, 120 units/acre, with up to 100 percent lot coverage in the floodplain.)

The sensitive lands program was broken from the day it was conceived because it’s based on politics and privilege. Fixing it is, as Mr. Coffee said, long overdue. Now, will our current council push through Metro’s bully position and implement a program that is more environmentally sound than the current program, as well as respectful of the property rights of all citizens?

Bob Thompson, Lake Oswego, is a member of the LO Stewards.