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Slowing down

A move to the Stafford area gave Jane Comer a new appreciation of the rural lifestyle


Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Jane Comer had a comfortable life in Lake Oswego, but when she bought property in the Stafford area back in 2013, she found and embraced a lifestyle she'd never imagined.Jane Comer’s friends thought she was crazy.

Sometimes, even a year after moving from her comfortable Lake Oswego home to an expansive 6.5-acre property in the Stafford area, Comer herself wonders just what she’s gotten herself into. Gone is her “solidly suburbia” lifestyle, replaced by countless chores like haying, gardening and feeding her goats.

It can be overwhelming, but Comer has never wavered since she decided to move her family into a more rural environment. In fact, she says it’s one of the best decisions she’s ever made.

“I’ve really noticed a change in myself,” Comer said. “I have to let things look a little messy — I can’t control them. ... I’ve been able to give myself permission to relax a lot, and I think I needed that.”

Comer never intended to make such a radical change. Back in late 2013, all she wanted was a new kitchen. But Comer’s father, who lives in Lake Oswego, told her she should consider something more.

“Before you put another dime in that pig’s ear,” he said, “go see what money will buy you.”

So Comer decided to look around, though at that point she still had no intention of buying a farm in Stafford. It happened by sheer coincidence: Comer was driving on Johnson Road one day when she saw the property, and the “For Sale” sign displayed outside.

“I saw the sign, time slowed down and angels sang,” Comer said with a laugh. “I thought, ‘That’s amazing.’”

By the end of October 2013, Comer and her family had moved in, and her new adventure began in earnest. Though the learning curve was steep, the benefits for the whole family were evident from the get-go.

“With my kids coming up in age, they were wanting more and more screen time,” Comer said. “And I’ve realized the value of the barn — it’s become their playroom. ... For the kids, it’s just been the increase in the amount of time they spend outdoors.

“They have to (use computers) for homework, but then they’ll be out here taking care of the goats.”

This summer, the three children built a “Hot Wheels city” in the barn — under the watchful eye of the barn cat who came with the property — and Comer has found that they spend much more time outside now.

“They do (watch TV), it’s just a little less time. Actually, it’s quite a bit less,” Comer said. “There are too many things to do out here.”

Between the peace of mind she’s found and the abundance of healthy activities for her kids, Comer couldn’t be more content with her new rural life. Her main concern comes from well outside the Stafford boundaries, as Metro and Clackamas County grapple with how to potentially usher in new development by designating Stafford as “urban reserve” land.

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.

“Some people keep saying, ‘Change is inevitable, it’s going to come,’” Comer said. “And that may be. But the truth is, when I’m done with this place — if my kids don’t want it — somebody else is going to drive down this road, and they’re going to say the exact same thing I did and want to take care of the land and keep it as it is.”

The Stafford area is nearly 4,000 acres and, of that, about 1,000 acres is considered developable — the majority centered on Borland Road. 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.

The paradigm shifted Feb. 20, when the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed and remanded Metro’s original urban reserve designation from 2010. 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.

Beyond urban reserve, areas can also be classified as “rural reserve” or “undesignated.” According to Metro, rural reserve areas are protected from development for 50 years after their designation, while undesignated land is outside of the urban growth boundary and “of lower priority” for possible urban growth expansion.

After a series of town hall meetings in September and early October, the Stafford Hamlet board will conduct a vote on two potential recommendations to Clackamas County: one to revert to Metro’s original designation of the entire Stafford Hamlet as urban reserve land, and the other allowing just the area around Borland Road to be developed as urban reserve, with the rest of Stafford falling under the “undesignated” category.

Comer falls emphatically on the latter side.

“There’s a feeling here that’s specific to Stafford,” she said. “It’s a pace thing, it’s a neighborly-ness thing — the expectation that neighbors respect space and land, and the caretaking of the land too.

“These aren’t people who are uneducated country bumpkins. These are people who are highly educated, who’ve made a conscious, well-thought out choice to live here and in this way.”

Earlier this year, Comer’s daughter showed off her goat at the Washington County Fair.

It was something Comer never pictured her children doing — “never in a million years” — but she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything else, certainly not rows of new housing.

“I don’t want this to change,” Comer said. “I don’t want to look over a sea of rooftops, I don’t want to see clustered housing developments with gates, or giant homes on land that’s been turned to lawn.”

It’s a possibility she’ll have to tackle at a later date. For now, Comer has a barn roof to replace, fencing to fix, a garden to manage.

And she couldn’t be happier about it.

Contact Patrick Malee at 503-636-1281 ext. 106 or pmalee@westlinntidings.com.

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