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Metro Council reaffirms Stafford as urban reserve

Formal action planned Jan. 14; county, 3 cities take separate paths.

The Metro Council is poised to reaffirm its 2011 designation of the Stafford Triangle for future development, even though Clackamas County and several cities have differing ideas.

The seven-member council chose Thursday (Dec. 17) to proceed with a designation of 6,230 acres bordering Tualatin, Lake Oswego and West Linn as urban reserves that could be open to development in the next 50 years.

Stafford is about 25 percent of the region’s projected urban reserves, which would have priority for inclusion in the region’s urban growth boundary.

Metro President Tom Hughes acknowledged that the action will not put an end to a process that dates back almost a decade.

“We do the part that we can do and let people deal with the other things,” he says.

He spoke after the failure of “facilitated discussions” aimed at resolving differences between Metro, Clackamas County and the three cities.

A majority of Clackamas County commissioners say they will not act on their own to designate Stafford as an urban reserve until the county completes consideration of other lands for potential development — including a much-debated site south of Wilsonville and south of the Willamette River.

But the Metro Council has resisted reopening the question of urban reserves after a years-long process. The council decided recently against an expansion of the region’s urban growth boundary, although it left the way open for another discussion in 2018, ahead of its next study in 2021.

The three cities have argued that they cannot afford to extend services, particularly road networks, into largely undeveloped Stafford.

“We do not need the support of the cities; we were hoping to get it, but we don’t need it. What we need is the support of the county,” says Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette, who with Hughes sat in on the final discussion with the county and cities.

“If the county’s position is going to be that we have to redo the (urban reserves) map, then I do not know how useful our saying we’re not going to (redo it) is going to be.

“To me, that is our position: We are not going to change the map. So I don’t know what our Plan B is.”

A long history

Oregon lawmakers in 2007 authorized the Metro Council and Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties to map urban reserves, plus rural reserves — where development would be excluded — and undesignated areas.

The state Land Conservation and Development Commission, Oregon’s land-use planning agency, adopted their 2011 agreement the following year.

But in response to legal challenges, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in February 2014 that Metro and the three counties had to muster more evidence to justify their designations.

Lawmakers stepped in afterward to designate urban reserves in Washington County, but left it to the other governments to resolve the remaining designations.

The renewed urban-reserve designation for Stafford, plus legal findings to support it, will come back to the council Jan. 14 for initial action on an ordinance. After its adoption, which is likely in February, it will go back to LCDC.

A similar but less contentious process is underway in Multnomah County.

The cities of Tualatin and West Linn were among the challengers to the 2011 decision on urban reserves, and it’s possible they will go back to the appeals court to challenge Metro’s latest action.

During the most recent “facilitated discussion,” the concept of a “conditional reserve” was floated. It would have allowed Metro to move ahead with the designation of Stafford as an urban reserve — but only after a series of studies demonstrated potential funding to extend roads from cities into the largely undeveloped area.

Hughes says, however, that too many conflicting demands were put forth.

“To say that based on this six-hour discussion … that we change the map as a result of that, I think it’s unfair to everybody else who participated in the process,” he says. “From my perspective, we’re not going to do it.”

Separate paths

Clackamas County, whose board expanded from three to five commissioners in 2012, is considering a study of additional areas for urban reserves.

While a county staff recommendation acknowledges that much of the projected growth in population and jobs over the next 20 years could fit within already-designated areas, it proposes a two-phase study topping $500,000 to be completed in spring 2017.

Commissioners have not yet approved money for the study, and Commissioner Tootie Smith says its scope is likely to shrink to keep its cost down.

Although the scaled-down version is likely to exclude 3,400 acres in the Boring-Damascus area — Smith says their specific study would drive up the expense — it would cover three other areas already identified by a majority of commissioners.

They are 630 acres south of Wilsonville at the Langdon Farms Golf Club, 400 acres east of Canby, and 425 acres south of the Clackamas River near Springwater Road, southeast of Carver.

Commissioner Jim Bernard has dissented from their decision, as have Wilsonville city officials, who say that extending city roads and utility lines south of the Willamette River would be costly.

“It also happens to be the northern boundary of our best agricultural land,” says Tony Holt, president of the Charbonneau Homeowners Association, who along with other residents has supported the Metro Council’s decision to focus only on Stafford.

Holt said after Metro's decision that opening up development south of Wilsonville would endanger not only rural residents but also Clackamas County’s status as one of Oregon’s top agricultural producers.

“I just hope we come to some rational solution soon, because the amount of work that was done over the past few years is unbelievable,” he says.

Metro Councilor Bob Stacey concedes that inaction by Clackamas County commissioners can thwart an urban-reserve status for Stafford. But he also says it could lead to the Metro Council giving priority elsewhere — mostly to Washington County — when it next considers expansion of the region’s urban growth boundary, either in 2018 or 2021.

“They (Stafford) will be unavailable to the region as long as Clackamas County cannot ratify a thoughtful decision made years ago. So we have a Plan B,” Stacey says.