With potential development looming, Stafford Hamlet board focuses on trails system

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Tom Lackman and his wife, Micheline, own four horses of their own, but they think an equestrian-themed trail system would be a draw for all residents. When word came of the Oregon Court of Appeals’ decision to reverse and remand Metro’s designation of the Stafford area as urban reserve property, Tom Lackman didn’t flinch.

As a Stafford resident and hamlet board member, Lackman has never been particularly excited about the prospect of future development in the rural area — but he has also come to accept it as inevitable. If the court of appeals decision seemed like a victory at first glance, Lackman saw it more as the prolonging of a process that was bound to occur.

And if development is coming, Lackman and other hamlet board members would rather focus on making it happen on their own terms.

At the center of that effort is the Stafford Trails project, which would build on the existing Three Rivers Land Conservancy trails plan and add an “equestrian” element to the area’s identity. Lackman envisions several new “loop and spur” trails with a soft surface amenable to pedestrians, horses and even wheelchairs, constructed for the purpose of enjoying the scenery and wildlife in the Stafford Basin.

“We’re seeing lots of equestrian communities being developed across the United States,” Lackman said. “It’s become what developers are calling ‘the new golf course community.’”

The trails plan would emphasize clustered housing development, leaving about 75 percent of the hamlet’s 4,000 acres as “open space” according to Lackman.

“It would be 75 percent open space, protecting all the streams and wildlife areas,” Lackman said. “So where we can build homes, they would all have access to get on the trail.”

The plan takes inspiration from Lackman’s previous home in Walnut Creek, Calif., where he spent 14 years before moving to Oregon in 1998. The “urban equestrian” community contained an intricate trails system centered around a large activity center built for horse riding and other recreational activities.

“(The community) is, to this day, very popular,” Lackman said. “There’s rarely a ‘for sale’ sign.”

Lackman, who owns the Oswego Heights private equestrian barn and pasture, envisions a new equestrian-themed community center coming in as part of Stafford’s development.

“Oswego Heights has kind of seen its day,” Lackman said. “And it was never really able to attract the big shows we’d like to see come to Clackamas County.”

Of course, not everyone in the Stafford community owns or even enjoys horses, and the Stafford Trails project stretches beyond that theme to address basic infrastructure needs.

“The plan is to be inclusive of everyone,” said Mike Stewart, a member of the Stafford Trails Committee. “There will be equine trails for the non-road areas, but we do want to make sure we’re improving bike access along roads.”

Indeed, a focal point of West Linn’s argument against development in the Stafford area was a lack of sufficient transportation services.

As West Linn attorney Jeff Condit argued before the Oregon Court of Appeals, “Metro’s own analysis conclusively demonstrates that urban development in the Stafford area will not be served at all, let alone adequately or efficiently, by existing or projected transportation investments.”

Lackman and Stewart understand that broad transportation improvements would be paramount to any new development.

“Some of the pathways would be built as the roads are improved,” Lackman said. “Stafford Road needs improvement as part of the development.”

If the prospect of future development has been met with skepticism over the years, Lackman sees the Stafford Trails project as a compromise that would benefit conservationists and developers alike.

"We all know development is coming, anyway," Lackman said. "So we would rather see this done in a planned way. The trails system would make this a very unique community, certainly in the Portland area."

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