Our View: Time for third-party mediation on Basalt Creek dispute
Basalt is a very hard rock.
Resolving the Basalt Creek dispute between the cities of Tualatin and Wilsonville shouldn't be nearly that hard. But it is.
And now it looks like both sides have done the wise thing and have sought third-party reconciliation, in the form of Metro, the regional government with oversight into such issues as growth and urban density.
A bit of background: Wilsonville has been growing to the north and Tualatin has been growing to the south, and the event horizon between the cities is the unincorporated area known as Basalt Creek.
Both sides negotiated for months — with Metro and Washington County at the table — on how that region will be urbanized; where city lines would fall; how many daily commuter trips each side would be permitted to generate with development; and what the future zoning for most of the area would be.
Among the decisions, the central subarea — a sector of the region with roughly 40 developable acres — would fall into Tualatin's city limits and would be developed as industrial property.
Neighbors stepped in, saying they didn't want industrial development in their backyards. And earlier this year, Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden said he has become convinced the land was unsuitable for industrial development due to its rugged topography and uneven bedrock.
Tualatin wanted residential development.
The other three parties to the agreement cried foul.
Members of the Wilsonville City Council, including Mayor Tim Knapp, threatened to walk away from a 2015 agreement they said Tualatin had abrogated, which sets the future city limits of Tualatin and Wilsonville along Basalt Creek Parkway. Wilsonville officials are adamant that zoning the land for residential use would be disastrous for the employment area. They insist the land must be industrial.
And that's where the disagreement has boiled all year long.
The problem is that the two cities were using different sets of "facts." The editorial board of The Times sat down with Mayor Ogden this summer, and he said the subarea is far too steep for industrial use.
An analysis by architectural and engineering firm Otak Inc. supports Tualatin's claim. But a study ordered by the Wilsonville City Council said that's nonsense — the site is definitely fit for industrial use, according to KPFF, another engineering firm.
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the legendary New York Democratic statesman, famously said, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts."
So we were pleased when Mayor Ogden and Wilsonville City Manager Bryan Cosgrove confirmed that the cities will seek outside counseling. Metro likely will be involved. Washington County could get involved, too.
Is the central subarea suitable for industrial development? We hope the parties can seek engineering help to determine that.
If Tualatin is right, then Metro and the consultants should come down on the side of residential development.
If Wilsonville is right, vice versa.
And we would hope that both cities will accept the findings and move on.
Would residents of the Victoria Gardens neighborhood, just north of the site, be OK with that Solomonic resolution? Probably not. Those who haven't wanted industrial development in their backyards likely never will.
That's the way of land-use disputes. Someone wins and someone loses.
We hope Tualatin wins and the site becomes residential development. Housing land in the city is quickly filling in, and it has few opportunities to expand (Stafford, past the east end of town, is an entirely separate ball of wax).
But if Wilsonville prevails, we'll concede that the need for resolution, and the need for integrated development in fast-growing Washington County, outweighs our desire. It might not make neighbors happy, but sometimes that's just how it goes.
Metro: Put the best engineers you can on the case. Make a determination. Make the call.
And Tualatin and Wilsonville? Accept the ruling, shake hands, and get on with the coordinated planning of the region.
Whichever way the coin falls.