A bill to fast-track Metro's 2011 urban growth boundary expansion moved out of one committee Thursday. But its future is even more uncertain after a flurry of activity in the halls of the capitol this week.
Some legislators, including Reps. Brian Clem, D-Salem, and Ben Unger, D-Hillsboro, are working on a plan to end court challenges to both the 2011 UGB expansion, and the region's landmark urban and rural reserves designations.
Metro Council President Tom Hughes called the plan "outrageous" after three hours of lobbying at the capitol on Thursday. He said legislators shouldn't step in when there's no way of knowing whether the courts would remand any specific urban or rural reserves.
Clem and Unger's plan would remove an area north of U.S. 26 near Brookwood Parkway from the urban reserves. That was set as a possible area for urbanization – for sometime in the next 50 years – by Metro and Washington County in early 2011.
"There are ongoing discussions about trying to come up with a bargain here for some urban and rural reserves changes, along with establishing a UGB line and ending the litigation on that issue," Clem said at Thursday's meeting of the House Committee on Rural Communities.
By forwarding the plan to the House Rules Committee, the Legislature has essentially until the end of the session to consider whether to push the grand bargain. The session is scheduled to end by March 9.
Hughes was adamant that the Legislature shouldn't intervene.
"We spent eight years in the process of developing the reserves bill, passing the reserves bill, studying what should go into the reserves, having the public hearings on reserves. We spent millions of dollars," Hughes said. "At the end of the day these guys think they can put five special interest lobbyists in a back room with no input at all, and come up with a better solution than we did."
Those special interests, Hughes said, are land conservation advocates like 1000 Friends of Oregon, Save Helvetia and Washington County farmers, working with developers who want to turn dirt at South Hillsboro as soon as possible.
Calls to representatives of South Hillsboro and 1000 Friends of Oregon were not returned.
"The region is watching potential industrial land fall by the wayside in, ironically enough, 300 acre clumps, starting with West Hayden Island and this will be yet another one," Hughes said. "I'm not sure that leaving ourselves short of industrial land, basically on the whim of a group of NIMBYs who don't want their viewshed troubled by industrial factories is … I don't know that that's a win for anybody."
Originally, House Bill 4078 would simply have set the 2011 UGB expansion – land south and north of Hillsboro, west of Beaverton and southwest of Tigard – in stone, overriding any further legal challenges of the decision.
Not wanting to set a precedent of UGB expansions going to Salem, Metro tried to have the bill amended to limit the amount of time the Oregon Court of Appeals and other regulators can review UGB expansions. Those proposals may have died this week, with the momentum shifting toward legislative intervention on the reserves program. The proposed changes to the bill were first reported Thursday by The Oregonian.
Hughes said he thinks such those decisions are best left at the local level.
"The Legislature's going to do it on a spit and a promise, and somehow they think that will make it better," he said. "It critically undermines the ability of local governments to do the land use planning the Legislature delegated us to do."