West Linn, Tualatin, Lake Oswego discuss latest developments

by: TIDINGS FILE PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - The Stafford areas future remains up in the air as West Linn, Tualatin and Lake Oswego continue to fight against its urban reserve designation. Here, resident Tom Lackman looks out at the Stafford Hamlet, where he views eventual development to be inevitable. West Linn may have won the first battle in appealing Metro’s designation of the Stafford area as “urban reserve” land, but the fight is far from over.

Attorney Jeff Condit, a partner at Miller Nash LLP, appeared before the city council Monday to provide a briefing on the case, which took a turn Feb. 20 when the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed and remanded Metro’s original urban reserve designation from 2010.

In the aftermath of that ruling, the 2014 Legislature passed a bill that shifted more than 600 acres of land from urban to rural reserve. However, that bill applied only to Washington County.

Along with 21 other petitioners, the city of West Linn claimed that the Land Conservation and Development Commission had misapplied legal principles in its review of Metro’s designations. The Oregon Court of Appeals ultimately agreed, stating that “LCDC’s order is unlawful in substance in various respects” and that, in particular, the commission failed to explain why Stafford’s designation as urban reserve property was supported by evidence.

According to Metro, urban reserves are lands that are outside current growth boundaries and are suitable for urban development in the next 40 to 50 years. Typically, the urban reserve designation is the precursor to being included in the urban growth boundary.

The Stafford area is nearly 4,000 acres and, of that, about 1,000 acres is considered developable. The land is a buffer of rolling hills and woodlands between Lake Oswego, West Linn and Tualatin.

West Linn and Tualatin have long said they do not wish to develop the Stafford area, citing concerns with infrastructure as well as transportation.

When the Oregon Court of Appeals made its ruling in February, West Linn Mayor John Kovash called it “a huge win” for the city, but by Monday he was unconvinced the ruling would ultimately change Stafford’s future.

“What we got from Metro was that this is a quick fix,” Kovash said. “And they’re going to win.”

Moving forward, the findings will likely be remanded back to Metro and Clackamas County, and both parties will be tasked with finding new evidence to support Stafford’s designation as urban reserve.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Condit said. “I’m as familiar with the evidence as anyone, and that evidence (supporting Stafford as urban reserve) just isn’t there.”

Condit said the LCDC remand process likely wouldn’t begin for at least two months.

“Until we see how LCDC is going to deal with this on remand,” Condit said, “it’s premature to second guess the decision or make any legal prognostications on what they’re going to do.”

When Metro made its designations in 2010, West Linn took particular issue with potential plans for the Borland Road area. Part of Stafford nearest West Linn, the Borland area was called “suitable for intense mixed use development” in Metro’s plan, while other areas of Stafford “will have little or no development.”

While contending that LCDC misapplied its review for substantial evidence, Condit cited a finding in the Regional Transportation Plan that suggests an increase in development would cause transportation in the Stafford area to function at a “failing” level.

The cities of West Linn, Tualatin and Lake Oswego were scheduled to meet Wednesday to further discuss their opposition of Stafford’s urban reserve designation.

“I would decide, as the three cities, what you want for your future,” said Tom Coffee, a former West Linn consultant and former Lake Oswego interim city manager, who joined Condit at Monday’s council meeting.

By Patrick Malee
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