Mayor Adams wanted decision before leaving office, but planning commissioners demanded more time

Portland Mayor Sam Adams won’t get to push through the annexation of west Hayden Island on his watch at City Hall.

The Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission decided Tuesday night to devote more time — perhaps three months — to review a host of unanswered questions about the project. The Portland City Council can’t take a vote on the annexation until the planning commission acts, which means the decision will be put off until Mayor-elect Charlie Hales takes the gavel from Adams.

At issue is Adams’ proposal for the city to annex roughly 800 acres on the west side of Hayden Island, most of it owned by the Port of Portland. About 500 acres, most of it forested, would be set aside as protected open space, while the remaining 300 acres would be zoned for the port to develop marine terminals along the Columbia River.

Adams had been pushing hard to decide the matter before he leaves office at year’s end, but a majority of planning commissioners determined they still had too many unresolved questions.

“I think it’s important to me to let this be our process,” said Andre Baugh, chairman of the citizen panel.

The issue has bedeviled the port and city officials for some two decades, in a classic debate of jobs vs. the environment.

After hearing more than four hours of testimony on Nov. 15, much of it from residents opposed to the annexation, and another three hours Tuesday night, only one planning commissioner, Irma Valdez, said she was ready to make a final vote Tuesday. Valdez wouldn’t say how she’d vote, but appeared to be supportive of the port’s effort. “Change is difficult but it’s going to happen,” Valdez said. She defended the port in the face of many negative comments expressed by citizens testifying. “They’re not the bad guy,” Valdez said. “They bring vitality, energy, jobs to the region.”

But she was clearly outnumbered in her willingness to decide the matter Tuesday night.

“The big questions still need details to me,” said commissioner Karen Gray. While opposed to delaying the decision as a “stall tactic,” Gray asked for three to six more months. “I cannot vote on any direction yet,” she said.

“I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed and unready to make this decision,” concurred Gary Oxman.

“There’s no way I’d vote today,” said Mike Houck, saying there are “fatal flaws” in the proposed intergovernmental agreement between the city of Portland and the port.

The commissioners resolved to meet again Dec. 11, when they hope to approve a time line and work plan to handle remaining issues before they can cast a vote on the annexation proposal. Commissioners gave themselves another three months or so to complete their work.

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