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Metro stands firm on Stafford reserves

PAMPLIN MEDIA FILE PHOTO; VERN UTETAKE - Parts of the Stafford area between Tualatin, Lake Oswego and West Linn are already developed with low-density housing, making some argue it makes sense to bring into the Urban Growth Boundary eventually.   The Metro Council has taken its final step toward redesignating the Stafford area for future development.

But other local governments still oppose the idea.

The seven-member council was unanimous Feb. 4 in reaffirming 6,230 acres between Tualatin, Lake Oswego and West Linn as urban reserves, which would make it open to development in the next 50 years.

The council added more detailed findings to support its original 2011 decision, which now goes back to the state Land Conservation and Development Commission. The effort to designate urban reserves — candidates for future inclusion inside the Urban Growth Boundary — dates back to 2007 state legislation. Controversy over the Stafford area has kept it from being designated as an urban reserve, so far.

“I think it’s important to complete the urban reserve process,” Councilor Craig Dirksen said. “I have cities in my district that need this confirmation so they can move forward with their plans.”

“We need to act in good faith to honor the commitment of all of those groups that came together through this complicated process to designate those urban and rural reserves,” Councilor Sam Chase said.

The council conducted two public hearings last fall and a discussion in December. Much of the testimony had little to do with Stafford, but on whether other areas — including the French Prairie rural reserve south of Wilsonville — should be considered for urban reserve status.

It acted to adopt an ordinance with more findings to support Stafford.

But Clackamas County commissioners say they will sign off on similar findings only after they complete a study of other lands that could receive a similar designation for potential development. They have yet to decide the scope and cost of the study, which is projected to extend into 2017.

Futile resistance?

Metro Council President Tom Hughes said such an effort would be futile in the end.

“It would be truly a shame to delay completion of the (urban reserve) process in Clackamas County by any length of time to wait for the off-chance that somehow they are going to get the opportunity to add land,” Hughes said.

“I do not see that happening,” he said. “For Clackamas County to spend a half-million dollars examining lands that have already been considered and rejected by local governments — and that have been rejected by the people who live around there — seems to me to be pointless.”

Stafford constitutes about a quarter of the 28,256 acres that Metro has designated in the region as urban reserves and open for development through 2060.

Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette said that without similar action by the Clackamas County board, “right now, we have only one county (Washington) that has urban reserves that, as we need to grow in the future, we could grow.”

Even if Clackamas County withholds action until 2017, the Metro Council decided last year against any expansion of the Portland area’s urban growth boundary. It left open the possibility of reconsideration in 2018, three years ahead of the normal cycle.

In early 2014, the Oregon Court of Appeals returned the issue of urban and rural reserves to the state Land Conservation and Development Commission, Metro and three counties for additional legal findings to justify specific areas.

Oregon lawmakers intervened shortly afterward to settle Washington County’s reserves — the required findings to justify them would have required far more legal work than those for Stafford — and Multnomah County commissioners are engaged in a separate process to resolve findings for a single rural-reserve designation that the court returned.

“I have tried quite extensively to work with leaders in Clackamas County to get them to see it the same way,” Hughes said. “Because of a political change in Clackamas County, they would like to use this as an opportunity to revisit all of the decisions that the previous commission made. But I think that was not the intention of the courts.

Although Clackamas County agreed to the original 2011 decision, the newest members elected in 2012 — Chairman John Ludlow and Commissioner Tootie Smith — are critics of Metro and its process.

Other views

Clackamas County is not the only dissenter from the Metro Council decision on Stafford.

The cities of Tualatin and West Linn were among the 22 individuals and agencies that sued in the Court of Appeals to overturn the original decision. They could sue again, but only after action by the state land use commission and Clackamas County.

The cities have continued to argue that Metro must show financing for the extension of road networks and other public improvements necessary for development of Stafford, which includes steep terrain and floodplains. But the Metro findings hold that such details are unnecessary at this stage.

“I think we have tried to make it as clear as possible that the cities that are concerned are in control,” Collette said. “It is up to them to develop — or not develop — the urban reserve areas adjacent to their city.”

City officials in Wilsonville urged Metro to proceed with the Stafford designation.

Councilor Shirley Craddock said development has taken place in other areas that have steeper slopes than Stafford.

“This is an area that fits the definition of an urban reserve,” Craddock said. “It is a suitable area for development. It is close to three other cities... There is sufficient developable land that can make sure we protect the natural areas there.”

Councilor Kathryn Harrington said, “I believe to my core that future generations will benefit and appreciate this solution we have put forward with urban reserves.”