Residents want advisory vote on November ballot

by: VERN UYETAKE - Mike Miller of the Stafford Hamlet board has long lived and worked in the 4,000-acre area between Lake Oswego, Tualatin and West Linn, and lately he has been involved in a planning effort aiming to ensure Stafford is developed as a unit rather than piecemeal. A separate group has now formed and is advocating for a countywide vote on what should happen in Stafford in the future.A group of Stafford residents is pushing for a countywide vote this year on whether the area between Lake Oswego, Tualatin and West Linn should be brought inside the urban growth boundary in 2016.

The group, called the Citizen Coalition for Self Determination, made the request of county commissioners during a July 9 town hall meeting in West Linn. Although the group is not linked with the Stafford Hamlet’s board of directors, Dave Adams, an original petitioner during the hamlet’s formation years back, said the coalition includes at least eight other former or present board members.

Adams said an advisory vote would show the board of county commissioners how constituents feel about the prospect of future development in Stafford ahead of the next round of discussions on which lands to bring inside of the urban growth boundary.

“Given the impact development out here will have on this community, it seems that might be a fundamental first step the county and cities should do,” Adams said. “If it’s not politically feasible, if there is no real support to do that, you’ve got a lot of people spinning wheels and spending money they shouldn’t spend.”

The roughly 4,000-acre Stafford area between Lake Oswego, Tualatin and West Linn is one of the region’s “urban reserves,” the first places planned for new development once existing urban areas are built out. Every five years, the Metro Council reviews whether the boundary should move to accommodate demands from projected population growth.

The Stafford Hamlet board serves in an advisory capacity to the county, and the county provides information to Metro, the regional government, when it comes time to consider whether more urban land is needed.

“On one hand it appears as though we have a seat at the table, but we’re really kind of in the second row of seats,” Adams said.

He acknowledged that the county’s formal recognition of the hamlet gives the residents a collective voice. But he worries some people come across louder in that process than others.

“If you are amongst the very, very few in the area who actually stand to benefit by developing Stafford, you have a strong voice because you either are a professional or you are a member of a group of landowners who have hired professionals to lobby the county, to lobby the cities, to lobby ... county commissioners and write checks to those people,” he said. “If you’re one of the thousands and thousands of people who live in West Linn or Lake Oswego or the hamlet, who will be shouldering all of the burdens of development, we have a minor voice.

“The vote is the only way to inform county commissioners, to inform Metro and jurisdictions around us (of the opinions of) those of us who will be shouldering these burdens.”

To come inside of the urban growth boundary, an area must have a form of governance, whether it becomes its own city or is brought inside of a neighboring jurisdiction. To date, the cities of Lake Oswego, Tualatin and West Linn have taken positions against urbanization in their backyards.

Planning process underway

Mike Miller, the Stafford Hamlet’s present chairman, said the local board is more concerned about what its residents want than the opinions of those in surrounding cities.

“We’re not interested in a countywide vote,” he said.

Instead, he said, the hamlet is continuing a process to map out how residents think their neighborhoods should look if or when the area comes inside the urban growth boundary.

“That’s what we’re interested in,” Miller said, noting the mapping process could wrap up by the fall. “We’re talking about decades into the future — not tomorrow.”

The planning process began earlier this year and aimed to bring together longstanding opponents. Conflicting views of how the Stafford area should grow go back years, typically pitting conservationists and owners of smaller parcels against developers and owners of large tracts of land. The longstanding divisions are even reflected in the makeup of the Stafford Hamlet’s board, which includes three owners of large properties, three owners of smaller amounts of land and four members elected at-large.

After gaining recognition from the county, the hamlet approved a vision that calls for focusing any dense development near freeway interchanges and keeping many large lots in pastoral settings. The planning effort now underway is supposed to delve deeper into how that vision might look if achieved. Organizers of the work have said they hope to facilitate development of the area as a whole rather than allowing a piecemeal approach.

Commissioners don’t take action

At the Clackamas County commissioners’ recent town hall meeting, county board Chairman John Ludlow acknowledged the ongoing planning process. He said he appreciated that the hamlet’s board and other community members are working to build consensus and voiced some apprehension about Adams’ idea for a countywide advisory vote on bringing Stafford inside the urban growth boundary.

“I’m concerned a vote would occur in the Stafford triangle but (would) include the city of West Linn,” Ludlow said. “I don’t know how that relates. That’s not exactly self-direction.”

Commissioner Tootie Smith also voiced some trepidation about the prospect of a countywide vote on the issue. To Adams, she said, “If we were to take that action right now you have asked for ... it would be viewed very aggressively.”

Commissioner Jim Bernard, however, said he’d support holding an advisory vote. Still, he added, while he isn’t a fan of the regional government in many regards, Metro does offer certain advantages.

“Stafford is the way it is today, thankfully, because of Metro,” Bernard said. “A lot would have happened here in Stafford that many of you would not have liked had Metro not been around to protect many of the communities.”

According to county officials, commissioners have not made a move to consider holding a vote on the issue in November.

Past coverage:
Stafford residents begin planning for growth

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