It won't be in effectin time for Metro's expansion decision

This Thursday, the state board in charge of Oregon's land use planning system is expected to consider a proposed rule that could allow new housing and businesses to be built on Washington County farmland.

But the rule would not be fully enacted in time for Metro, the regional government in charge of managing growth, to use it this year.

'It could take up to five years before Metro is ready to apply the rule,' said Dan Cooper, Metro's legal counsel.

At issue is whether Metro can consider the needs of an individual city or county when deciding whether to expand the urban growth boundary, which separates housing and business areas from farmland within the tri-county region.

State law requires Metro to maintain a 20-year supply of buildable land within the boundary at all times. Under the law, Metro must decide whether to expand the boundary by this December.

Washington County officials say they need more land for new housing and business developments. But all the land adjacent to the Washington County boundary is high-quality farmland.

State law prohibits Metro from bringing such farmland within the growth boundary until after all non-farmland adjacent to the boundary has been included.

But Clackamas County has thousands of acres of non-farm lands just outside the boundary, meaning that Metro is legally required to expand there first.

To resolve the conflict, Metro has asked the Land Conservation and Development Commission to adopt a 'subregional needs' rule. Under this proposed rule, Metro would be allowed to consider the needs of each county separately from the entire region.

The commission is the seven-member citizen body appointed by the governor to oversee the state's land use planning system. It will take up the subject when it meets in North Plains at 9 a.m. Thursday in the Jesse Mays Community Center, 30975 N.W. Hillcrest St.

Although Cooper believes that the commission is sympathetic to the idea, he does not believe such a rule could be adopted in time to meet Metro's December deadline for a decision on expanding the urban growth boundary.

For starters, under the state's Administrative Procedures Act, the commission could not vote on the rule until September, at the earliest. The act requires that all proposed state rules be circulated for public review and comment before they are adopted.

If the commission approves the rule, it can be challenged in the Oregon Court of Appeals, and such a suit could take years to resolve. Both Portland Mayor Vera Katz and the 1000 Friends of Oregon watchdog group have questioned the legality of the proposed rule.

Even if the rule is not challenged in court, Cooper says Metro would have to adopt new procedures and conduct a thorough analysis of Washington County's needs before it could expand the boundary there Ñ a process he says would take an additional six months, at the least.

'It would be silly to think we could get all this subregional stuff done by the end of the year,' Cooper said.

Complicating matters is the fact that Metro Executive Officer Mike Burton must make his recommendation for expanding the boundary in August, a month before the earliest that LCDC could act.

Burton's recommendation would be the starting point for the elected Metro Council's deliberation.

Cooper thinks that Washington County officials should not expect any help from Metro until next year at the earliest.

'Everyone needs to accept the fact that this is just not going to happen this year and get on with the business at hand,' Cooper said.

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