Business and political leaders in the city of Hillsboro are pushing hard to open North Hillsboro to new employers and South Hillsboro to new residents. by:  PAMPLIN  MEDIA GROUP: CHASE ALLGOOD - Highway 26 road signs and farm houses break up the open fields in the proposed north Hillsboro industrial area.

The future of both areas is unclear, however, as revealed by recent efforts at the 2013 Oregon Legislature to make sure North Hillsboro will be developed.

Senate Bill 845 was introduced by Washington County legislators to circumvent a land use challenge to the 300-acre parcel north of the city. The 1,063 acre South Hillsboro parcel currently faces the same challenge, which was filed in the Oregon Court of Appeals.

As a result, even though plans for both areas are being completed, it remains unclear when work will begin — if ever. Although a court ruling is expected soon, the final resolutions could be years away.

North Hillsboro is comprised of farmland and open spaces that could host large manufacturing plants. The state of Oregon is thought to be recruiting a new high-tech company there in a secretive effort dubbed “Project Azalea.”

South Hillsboro includes farmland, pastures, hillsides and small neighborhoods. City officials hope to turn it into a master-planned, mixed-use community that includes around 1,100 new homes to accommodate about 25,000 new residents.

Such development has been approved by Metro, the elected regional government, and the state Land Conservation & Development Commission (LCDC), which oversees land use planning in Oregon. Yet development in the two areas cannot start without the approval of the appeals court and, potentially, the Oregon Supreme Court.

Both courts might be required to rule on multiple challenges, and their rulings could possibly prevent the areas from ever being developed.

SB 845 covers North Hillsboro. It authorizes the governor and the director of LCDC to exempt certain land use decisions regarding large-site industrial properties from legal appeals. This would be done by entering into contracts with employers who promise to create at least 500 new, full-time jobs on the properties in question.

The legislation has the support of business organizations that have long argued for the availability of more industrial land for businesses that would require a large number of employers. It was introduced by state Sens. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) and Lee Beyer (D-Salem) and state Rep. Tobias Read (D-Beaverton).

Even if SB 845 passes, it is likely to be challenged in court. Although it is supported by some business interests, SB 845 is opposed by 1000 Friends of Oregon, among others.

The complex legal hurdles are largely the result of a multi-step land-use procedure approved by the 2007 Oregon Legislature. Metro had to bring both areas into the urban growth boundary (UGB) before they could be developed. But the Legislature was required to designate 50-year urban and rural reserves before that could happen.

Metro designated urban and rural reserves throughout the region in October 2011. South Hillsboro and North Hillsboro were designated as urban reserves.

LCDC approved the designations, but did not issue its written order on them until August 2012. That was the first time they could be challenged in the appeals court, and nine challenges were filed late last year. One came from 1000 Friends of Oregon, which argued the designations in Washington County violated state land use planning laws.

Metro approved a 1,985 acre expansion of the UGB in October 2011, before the dispute over the urban and rural reserves was taken to court.

The expansions, which encompassed North Hillsboro and South Hillsboro, were approved by LCDC in June 2012. The written order was filed in December of 2012, and three objections were filed later that month. The UGB challenges are on hold until the appeals court rules on the urban and rural designations, however.

The court could approve the designations or send them back to LCDC for more work. If the court approves the designations, the challengers could appeal that decision to the Oregon Supreme Court. Conversely, if the appeals court sends the designations back for more work, Metro and the LCDC could appeal that decision to the Oregon Supreme Court.

The court’s ruling on the UGB expansions could also be appealed to Oregon’s Supreme Court.

Potential outcomes could include months if not years of additional work to justify the urban and rural reserve designations and the UGB expansions.

Regardless of the timing or results of the court ruling, Metro is still obligated, by Oregon law, to complete its next 20-year population and employment forecasts and urban growth boundary analysis by the end of 2014. The next UGB expansion decision will happen after that.

North Hillsboro and South Hillsboro must be annexed into the city for work on them to begin, but despite the legal uncertainties, planning in both areas is already very far along.

City officials consider North Hillsboro key to the region’s economic future. The 330 acres under consideration are located north of Waibel Creek, west of 253rd Avenue and east of Sewell Road to Highway 26. The eight property owners there have entered into an agreement to consolidate their holdings to meet large lot development requirements.

Earlier this week, the Hillsboro City Council considered proposed amendments to the Comprehensive Land Use Plan to allow development to occur there.

The 1,063 acre South Hillsboro site is located in unincorporated Washington County. Most of it bordered by the Tualatin Valley Highway to the north, Southwest Rosedale Road on the south, Southwest 229th Avenue on the west and Southwest 209th Avenue on the east.

Metro has approved South Hillsboro as a dense, mixed-use community supporting up to 25,000 residents and 2,250 new jobs. The city has a entered into a memorandum of understanding with Washington County to prepare a master plan for the property. When it is completed, the city will annex the property from the county to provide the necessary urban services to allow development to begin.

The South Hillsboro Community Plan approved by the City Council in September 2012 identified locations for residential and commercial centers, schools and parks.

The council is expected to vote on a South Hillsboro Focus Plan this summer that includes transportation options for the area.

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