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Metro Council poised to certify urban reserves

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Decision put off until April 13; cities, resident group still argue against including Stafford, but landowners, home builders support action to complete decade-old process.

Despite last-minute pleas from landowners and three cities, the Metro Council is poised to declare the region's amount of land — including Stafford in Clackamas County — open to urban development in the next 50 years.

But after another hearing Thursday (March 16), the council put off action until April 13, mostly because of new documents submitted. The public record will close at 5 p.m. March 23.

The council plans to act only on whether the designated 23,031 acres — 6,230 acres of them in Stafford, between Tualatin, Lake Oswego and West Linn — are sufficient for urban reserves open to development in the next 50 years.

Legislation dating back a decade empowered Metro and three counties to designate how much land should be available for future growth.

Back in February 2016, after several public meetings, the council reaffirmed its 2011 decision to include Stafford within the region's urban reserves, despite a lawsuit that prompted the Oregon Court of Appeals in 2014 to return the issue for more detailed justification by the council and county.

Clackamas County commissioners plan hearings on the same findings on April 12 and 19.

The three cities continue to oppose Stafford's inclusion as an urban reserve, arguing that it will be costly to extend streets and other public works into much of the hilly terrain.

But the county and Metro say they are working for a separate agreement to allow phased-in development. Jeff Condit, a Portland lawyer who represents Tualatin and West Linn, said the cities are likely to put forth their own proposal.

Condit told the Metro Council: "We hope it will enable us to get comfortable that we would be able to address the development issues in Stafford as it is designated, particularly the expensive infrastructure questions … and avoid another three years of purgatory."

Tualatin and West Linn were among the challengers to the original 2011 decision.

Although no one appeared on behalf of Lake Oswego, City Attorney David Powell wrote to Metro that the city agrees with the others.

"Lake Oswego supports and looks forward to joining negotiations … toward resolving designation issues," Powell wrote.

Dave Adams, vice chair of Stafford hamlet, also restated his group's opposition to an urban reserve designation. The hamlet has sponsored a plan that allows more intensive development only along Borland Road closest to Interstate 205.

"We would all like you to reconsider the path we are on," Adams told the council. "It looks like the train has left the station already. But it's our feeling that you are really condemning all of us to three more years of purgatory, when nothing is going to happen, and we actually could have a solution."

Other views

Although neither had a representative at the meeting, the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland and the Stafford Land Owners Association filed statements urging the council to proceed with the regional designations.

Paul Grove, who represents the homebuilders' group, described it as a "difficult and lengthy process," but added, "the HBA hopes to be an active partner with Metro, Clackamas County and other impacted parties for the benefit of our communities and residents."

The landowners' association has a competing plan that calls for more development than the hamlet plan, but still only 1,008 of around 4,000 acres, also mostly at the southern end of Stafford near I-205.

The pending decision by Metro — assuming Clackamas County approves the same legal findings to justify Stafford as an urban reserve — could be appealed again to the Oregon Court of Appeals once the state land use agency ratifies it.

But the landowners' group proposes that Metro and the county go to state lawmakers "to end the countless delays and potential lawsuits that have delayed Stafford from being developed," in a letter from chairman Herb Koss.

House Bill 2095, pending in a House committee, could allow that shortcut to happen – much in the same way that lawmakers in 2014 set urban reserves outright for Washington County in the aftermath of the Court of Appeals decision.

East Bethany dispute

Also at the Metro hearing, four landowners in the East Bethany area in Multnomah County urged the council to designate their land for urban reserves, contrary to a decision by Multnomah County to leave it as rural reserves that are closed to development.

"We are going to be surrounded," said Bob Burnham, one of the landowners, all of whom live on NW Springville Road.

But Roger Alfred, a senior assistant attorney for Metro, advised the council that only Multnomah County could initiate a change in designation.

Carol Chesarek, president of the Forest Park Neighborhood Association, said the county made the right decision the first time.

"There is no city that can provide services to that area," she said.

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