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UGB expansion detractors should step back

At this point it appears plans are still on for Portland Community College to follow through on its pledge to establish an education facility in Columbia County. That’s promising news for south Columbia County residents who have been paying PCC taxes but have not enjoyed convenient access to the college’s services, as residents in other PCC tax locales have. It’s an issue we will continue to extensively cover, as we have in the past, considering we believe PCC has benefited from Columbia County taxpayers for far too long without reciprocating in the way of providing accessible services.

For a majority of Scappoose residents and businesses, however, PCC’s exploration of new site options for a 200-acre training facility and a 20-acre education center should sound a sour note. As Scappoose City Manager Jon Hanken indicated in last week’s Spotlight, PCC’s exploration of property other than its planned move onto land adjacent to Scappoose Industrial Airpark illustrates broader problems with Oregon’s land-use approval process.

Though PCC holds two purchase options for two property tracts — one 20-acre parcel located within Scappoose’s current urban growth boundary and one for a larger parcel outside of the UGB but within a proposed UGB expansion area — college officials told us last week that their exploration of alternative land makes sense in light of the long time it takes for a city to successfully expand its urban growth boundary.

And here’s the rub: Despite the fact Scappoose voters signaled their favor of expanding the city’s UGB, for the most part an action that targets 365 acres near Scappoose Industrial Airpark, persistent challenges to the UGB expansion plan — notably by attorney Michael Sheehan and former Intel executive Pat Zimmerman, neither of whom are Scappoose residents or manage a business within the city — have now resulted in it being tied up in the Oregon Court of Appeals, where a decision is unlikely this year. We should mention, however, that we believe Sheehan and Zimmerman are active in the community and that there is merit to their interests in how Scappoose grows.

But the latter point does not excuse what we believe is a colossal stall tactic the two have devised with the intent of undermining the city’s opportunity for growing its economic base at the airport — an exciting prospect we believe is fully valid and will materialize as the market recovers. In addition to PCC’s plans, perhaps most exciting is the prospect of aviation-related enterprises with real job creation, versus other, non-sustainable job proposals that solely involve the transport of extracted natural resources through the county.

The UGB expansion plan has passed muster with the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development staff, director and its board, including the review and rejection of Sheehan and Zimmerman’s earlier appeals.

Admittedly, however, this isn’t the first time DLCD has uniformly supported a UGB expansion only to later find components of it overturned in an Oregon Court of Appeals ruling. The city of McMinnville had embarked on a decade-long effort to expand its UGB by 1,200 acres, and though DLCD approved its expansion plans, the court remanded it back to the city for a rework.

There are huge differences between the Scappoose and McMinnville UGB expansion proposals, however. Most importantly, McMinnville targeted prime agricultural land for its buildable UGB expanded growth zones, whereas Scappoose’s airport property is low-value land as it concerns agricultural potential.

In fact, the property had been owned by former-Glacier Northwest gravel mining company that had intended to mine it for the bounty of rock aggregate the soil contains. The company agreed to not mine it following the complaints of many residents who had envisioned that property as an industrial growth sector near the airport, and it was with that understanding Glacier Northwest — now called CalPortland — agreed to sell the property to Airpark Development LLC.

It’s also important to remember the UGB expansion is intended as a way to plan for growth over the next 20 years. At this point, we know PCC is already seeking 200 acres of the proposed 365 available. We want to know what else is possible, and believe the Scappoose UGB expansion detractors should take a step back and let the community’s plans move forward.