City Council, County Commission talk about preserving rural buffer

The Green Corridor Intergovernmental Agreement - a document that calls for the preservation of a rural buffer between Sandy and Gresham - may not be powerful enough to achieve the results Sandy leaders are looking for.

That was the message that Clackamas County Commissioners Lynn Peterson and Martha Schrader conveyed during a special joint workshop with the Sandy City Council Monday evening, April 16, at Sandy City Hall.

City leaders invited the commissioners to the workshop to discuss the agreement and their perception that the county must do more to enforce it.

'I've seen too many other areas around the metro area lose their sense of identity because it just all grew together,' said Mayor Linda Malone. 'We want to try as much as we can to preserve some sense of separateness and identity. We need to preserve that whole area along (Highway) 26 between Gresham and us in its current state of growing stuff. That's what the Green Corridor Agreement was crafted to do.'

Relations between the city and the county have been strained as of late because the city says it didn't receive proper notice for several applications within the green corridor area, including the Ashley's Village mixed-use redevelopment at the corner of highways 26 and 212, and the Measure 37-induced billboards at the corner of Highway 26 and Haley Road.

The city has charged that the county has been less than forthcoming with information.

'When we try to provide comment, basically we're told. 'You're wrong,'' Councilman Bill Leslie said. 'At the level where permits granted, either there's no knowledge or there's no ownership of the concept. My perception is that it's probably both.'

The county asserts that with so much else going on, it's easy for low-level staff to neglect the notification terms in the agreement.

'We need to have better communication,' Schrader admitted. 'We're not informing you of the developments in the areas that are part of the green corridor.'

But rather than strengthening the existing Green Corridor Agreement, county leaders think a different approach might yield better results for the city.

'Intergovernmental agreements have very little legal standing,' said Peterson, the newly elected commission vice chairwoman. 'We need something with more teeth that's more legally binding.'

Peterson suggested that the county look into a 'green corridor overlay zone,' which would essentially change the county's zoning to prohibit certain types of development from taking shape in the corridor.

'Obviously other cities would like to have the same type of overlay,' she said. 'They could replicate this.'

Peterson also suggested a scenic view shed like the Columbia River Gorge has, which would prevent development from spoiling a view of the scenery surrounding Highway 26.

County administration staffer Karen Buehrig said the county has worked on developing a stronger green corridor agreement before. In 2003, the county worked with Oregon City, Mollala and Canby to develop similar rural buffers between those cities. After an 18-month process, the county shelved the project, deciding that any policy changes should involve the entire county to cover every community.

'A framework has been put together,' Buehrig said, 'and that could potentially be a place to start at again.'

The councilors generally liked the idea of a stronger agreement - particularly in the form of an overlay zone - and urged expediency at the county level to get the project going.

'The more time you take to come to some sort of agreement, you lose time and lose ground, literally,' Malone said. 'The sooner we could expedite that, the better.'

The commissioners vowed to bring the matter to one of its work sessions.

'There's the opportunity for some excellent modeling with green corridor opportunities,' Schrader said. 'This could be replicated throughout the county.'

To get a better idea of the situation between Sandy and Gresham, Peterson said she will go on a driving tour of the green corridor with Malone on Friday, April 20. Schrader also indicated she wants to take a similar drive.

Boring resident Gary Jensen, who has lived in the green corridor area 41 years, protested the city's interest in the area.

'Doesn't Sandy have enough to do in its own house not to mess around in the Boring CPO and the rural areas?' he asked. 'There's nothing wrong with the idea of a green corridor, except the fact that the property affected by this doesn't belong to you.'

Jensen, a member of the Concerned Citizens of the Boring CPO - a group that threatened to sue Clackamas County over the proposed formation of a Boring Village quasi-government - said his group is lying dormant right now, 'but if the city of Sandy wants to raise money to fight (development in the corridor), you may find our group willing to help the landowners. If you want to control the land, you should just buy it.'

Schrader responded to Jensen by saying that any widespread actions taken by the county would need to be done with the full involvement and notification of all parties.

'It's becoming more and more imperative that we move ahead with the larger visioning process,' she said. 'We need to start communication with the folks in the unincorporated areas. I'm sensing things have been happening where people are not being invited to participate. We have to get everyone at the table.'

'It's much better for us to work these things out, rather than using legal expenses to fight these things,' Malone said, referring to the city's threatened lawsuit against the county for allowing the twin billboards to be constructed. 'There are some things worth fighting for, and it would be better if we just keep lines of communication open and avoid litigation.'

The county will host its fifth Complete Communities Congress from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at the old Oregon City High School - Jackson School Campus, 1306 12th St. The theme of the meeting, 'A sustainable county for the 21st century,' is in line with Sandy's issues and concerns, Schrader said.

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