Couple outside Cornelius was shocked to find their home inside the UGB

Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO - Joseph Auth and Amanda Spahn planned to expand their geese operation but a zoning change could stop that.It was purely by accident that Joseph Auth and Amanda Spahn discovered last May that their farm outside Cornelius was now inside the urban-growth boundary.

They’d emailed the Washington County Department of Land Use and Transportation about a previous issue and the response mentioned their property had been drawn into the newly mapped UGB a few months earlier.

“We were shocked,” Auth said.

So were their neighbors after Auth informed them. The UGB expansion includes roughly 40 other farms and rural residences on Northwest 334th and 336th avenues at the east end of Cornelius, north of Highway 8.

“Nobody wants to be included,” said Auth, who has lost sleep over the issue.

He and Spahn were hoping to expand their geese operation, but the new arrangement would likely kill those plans.

“We never thought our land was even being considered,” said Auth, who plans to attend an Aug. 5 meeting where the Washington County Commission will consider officially adopting the UGB expansion.

The urban-growth boundary designates which land should be developed and which land should be preserved for farming. Normally, UGB decisions are made by Metro, the regional organization in charge of natural areas and land use.

But Metro’s 2010 plan was challenged in court and when the Oregon Court of Appeals finally tossed out the plan last February, the state legislature took over, passing a “grand bargain” law that rearranged the UGB through deals and compromises between the various affected parties.

“Normally we have a pretty extensive public outreach process, and notify people if there’s even the potential their land may be affected,” said Tim O’Brien, a planner with Metro.

Metro code states when a UGB amendment concerns more than 100 acres, they’ll provide notice to “all households located within one mile of the proposed amendment area and to all cities and counties within the district at least 20 days prior to the hearing.”

But when the legislature passed the bill, “it was out of our hands; it was done above us. It happened over a weekend and we were all pretty surprised,” O’Brien said.

In addition, Washington County staff usually post UGB-related agendas in newspapers and notify Community Planning Organizations, and welcome comments and requests, said Stephen Roberts, the county’s Department of Land Use & Transportation communications coordinator.

But because the UGB decision was made on the state level, neither Metro nor the county could notify the affected property owners.

“We feel like our rights have been violated,” said Spahn, who would like to see their property removed from the UGB.

Earlier this month, the county’s planning commission voted to accept the UGB expansion and on Aug. 5, Washington County commissioners are expected to amend their comprehensive plan to conform as well.

Auth and Spahn say they know their chances of getting their land removed from the UGB are slim, but hope to at least keep the area’s current rural zoning so they can continue to raise and sell animals.

It would be difficult to have a rural zone in an urban area, Roberts said.

And a property’s zoning changes to urban when it becomes part of the UGB, which puts it in an uncertain “holding zone,” Roberts said, with the land poised for future development even though it may take years before that happens.

The city of Cornelius will need to undergo extensive planning and to annex the property before development can occur, for example. And owners are not required to develop, he said.

But Auth and Spahn were hoping to expand their geese operation and land zoned for future development prohibits keeping fowl for sale.

Although there are rare examples of working farms surrounded by a sea of cookie-cutter houses, Auth and Spahn are nervous about the future. They feel as if their lifestyle is being taken from them. Spahn’s extended family still lives next door and has inhabited the land for decades. Nobody wants to sell it to developers.

“We want to preserve our livelihood,” Auth said. “We did not receive due process; there was no transparency. We are hoping it will be corrected.”

O’Brien can’t give them much hope: “The UGB has been moved and I don’t think there’s anything we can say about it.”

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