It was a dynamic year in the Portland region. From groundbreaking climate plans, to agreements to open up access to a regional landmark, the past year had plenty of interesting events.
Here's a look at what made news at Metro in 2014.
1. A path to the waterfall
For years, it's been both a tantalizing prospect for development and a reminder of how challenging it can be to get the ball rolling on even a common-sense project.
One of the highest-volume waterfalls on Earth is in the heart of downtown Oregon City. Historically, Oregonians have harnessed Willamette Falls, and the basalt cliffs around them, for industry. But times have changed, and when the Blue Heron Paper Co. declared bankruptcy in 2011, regional leaders started thinking about what the future would hold for the falls.
The Metro Council studied the Blue Heron site for years, proceeding on due diligence before deciding not to tender an offer for the bankrupt mill. Then, in May, developer George Heidgerken made a winning $2 million bid for the mill, becoming the site's primary owner and developer.
But perhaps the biggest breakthroughs came this autumn, when the Oregon City Commission approved a new master plan and zoning changes for the site, followed by Metro and its partners reaching a deal with Heidgerken for an easement on the property. Metro also reached an agreement with Portland General Electric, which owns and operates a dam next to the falls. The two agreements will allow construction of a riverfront walkway, eventually letting the public see the power of Willamette Falls up close and personal for the first time in a century.
What's next: Metro is currently developing a request for proposals for a team to design and complete preliminary engineering work on the riverwalk. Once on board, that team is expected to take about 18 months to develop cost estimates and a plan for construction. The project partners have already secured $10 million for the first phase of construction, which will begin after design and engineering are completed and required permits are obtained.
2. Growing pains
The upcoming review of the Portland region's urban growth boundary was supposed to be one of the least controversial in recent memory.
After all, it was just three years ago that Metro added 2,018 acres to the UGB, and with urban reserves now approved, the Metro Council has a limited, pre-selected pool of land available for more growth.
But a few variables popped up, turning a conventional review into a political hot potato that rolled through the second half of 2014 and into next year.
First, Portland residents – particularly those east of the river – found that urban living was suddenly in vogue. Urban amenities, historically, have been surrounded by single-family homes in Portland's neighborhoods.
But developers saw increased demand for multi-family housing, and started putting mixed-use developments all over the inner eastside. Division Street, Williams Avenue and Broadway were transformed, seemingly overnight, into something that resembled Seattle. Cranes rose above the Lloyd District, the Burnside Bridge and in the Pearl District – and in Hillsboro's Orenco neighborhood – as new apartment complexes went skyward.
Even outside those business districts, people saw nearby homes torn down by developers looking to build bigger houses. Some blamed the region's UGB for the reconstruction, even if it was Portland's zoning laws that enable the changes.
By mid-summer, the stew of land use controversy was simmering. Then two reports put it into a full boil.
In one, Metro and the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland teamed up to study consumer attitudes about housing choice. The results tended to turn out however the reader wanted them to. For homebuilders who like to build single-family snout houses on cul-de-sacs, the survey glaringly said a plurality of people want to live in the suburbs. For urbanists, it was clear that a majority of people said they didn't want to live in the suburbs. For some economists, people only wanted to live in the suburbs if they could ignore housing price and commute time.
In other words, the survey was fairly conclusive to a lot of people, but they couldn't agree on what it said.
About the same time, Metro released its draft Urban Growth Report – its look at how the region is forecast to grow in the next 20 years. That report, from demographers and economists, is the basis for the Metro Council's 2015 UGB decision, in which it has to ensure that there is 20 years' worth of developable land within the UGB.
The report, based on various economic models, forecast that 60 percent of new homes in the Portland region would be multi-family in the next 20 years, and 40 percent would be single family. Almost all of the multi-family homes would be in Portland's city limits, and almost all of the single-family homes would be in the suburbs.
But while Metro said it was releasing a forecast, many thought it was issuing a mandate, a bit like saying the National Weather Service caused the rain because meteorologists said it was likely. Others simply questioned the forecast.
In December, the Metro Council accepted its staff's draft Urban Growth Report, including the forecast of multi-family and single-family home growth.
What's next: The Metro Council has until the end of 2015 to decide whether to expand the urban growth boundary. So far, only Wilsonville has stepped forward and said it is actually seeking a UGB expansion – and the Metro Council has been reluctant to expand in places without a local government sponsor.
3. Sadness, and changes, at the zoo
About a year ago, Kutai the orangutan was a sick 20-year-old.
Veterinarians at the Oregon Zoo noticed Kutai was having digestive issues, and was lethargic. They later found pus in one of the ape's air sacs, according to The Oregonian, and decided to operate.
The operation was unsuccessful, and Kutai later died. The cause of his death was never conclusively established.
After an investigation into Kutai's death, Metro Visitor Venues Department director Teri Dresler replaced Kim Smith as zoo director.
In her seven months at the zoo, Dresler focused on improving hospital operations, and strengthening the relationship between Metro, the zoo and the Oregon Zoo Foundation. In December, the Metro Council approved a new operating agreement with the foundation.
What's next: The search for a permanent zoo director is expected to begin in 2015. The zoo also hired a hospital manager to oversee animal care.
4. Metro passes groundbreaking climate plan
It was supposed to be a hard sell, getting regional buy-in for a plan to cut tailpipe emissions by 20 percent before 2035.
But then a minor miracle happened – a review of locally-adopted plans, already on the books, showed that the path to reaching that target was already set.
The Oregon Legislature in 2009 told Metro that the Portland region had to cut emissions by 20 percent before 2035, a counter balance in an expansive highway construction bill. Metro looked at nearly 150 ways to cut emissions.
They found that a huge chunk would come from increases in fuel efficiency. But, more importantly, an even bigger chunk would come from simply building out plans already approved by cities and counties. If, by 2035, cities end up looking like what their plans say they should, the Portland region would cut emissions 29 percent in the next 20 years.
There was some opposition to the Climate Smart proposal – Clackamas County, in particular, wanted more emphasis on reducing traffic congestion and building more roads to cut tailpipe emissions – but the Metro Council voted unanimously on Dec. 18 to accept the Climate Smart strategies and to meet the Legislature's goals.
What's next: The Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission is scheduled to review Metro's approved strategies in January to see if it complies with state law.
5. Region continues to eye next generation of transit
The Portland region's 2009 High Capacity Transit System Plan identified three "near-term priority" transit corridors, the highest tier of the roughly one dozen possible transit corridors that could someday be built in the area.
Two of them are being studied right now, with one on the fast track.
The Powell-Division corridor is looking at improving transit from Gresham to Portland along Division Street and Powell Boulevard, as well as improving pedestrian connections to a potential transit line in that area.
In 2014, the steering committee guiding the study said the project should be a high-capacity busway, instead of light rail, because such a "bus rapid transit" project could be completed within a few years and cost less. The committee said the route should cross the Willamette River at Tillikum Crossing, then follow Powell through inner Portland before crossing up to Division somewhere in mid-Southeast Portland. As a bus rapid transit project, it would include upgraded stations, limited stops and possibly even dedicated lanes.
But while Powell-Division is looking for quick resolution, the Southwest Corridor study is taking a more cautious approach.
Before launching into a detailed federal study, Southwest Corridor leaders want to know more about a potential transit route, the potential costs of building a tunnel under OHSU and Hillsdale, and whether the route would be best served as a busway or light rail line.
What's next: By summer 2015, we will see a Powell-Division action plan for transit and the transit stops along the route. Meanwhile, decisions on a precise route for the Southwest Corridor will depend quite a bit on how much local support exists for various transit options. Those decisions are expected in 2016.
6. Hundreds turn out as Metro opens new park in Clackamas County
High on an extinct lava dome above Happy Valley, beneath old Douglas-firs and maples, a new 100-acre park opened to the public in August.
Scouters Mountain Nature Park is the latest part of Metro's natural areas portfolio, funded by bond measures in 1995 and 2006 and a levy in 2013. The park features trails, a picnic shelter and restroom, and majestic views of Mt. Hood.
Metro's staff spent three years preparing the site, removing ivy and other invasive species, and planting more than 30,000 native trees and shrubs at the site.
The park cost about $3 million, including land acquisition and capital improvements. The park is a partnership with the city of Happy Valley and the North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District, with additional support from the Boy Scouts of America’s Cascade Pacific Council and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.
What's next: Metro plans to open another park, North Canemah Bluff in Oregon City, in fall 2015.
7. 2019 inches closer as Metro talks trash
Never before has the Portland region taken trash talk so seriously.
Metro, as the regional government, manages most of the area's trash hauling system. And with many key contracts for managing waste set to expire in 2019, Metro's in the midst of a lengthy look at what the public wants in its trash service.
The Let's Talk Trash series included a film festival, a play, social events, lectures and other methods of outreach as Metro officials try to gauge the public's attitudes toward recycling, composting, waste-to-energy operations and the region's key landfill, which is 150 miles east of Portland near the Columbia River Gorge.
What's next: In July, the Metro Council discussed different technologies for managing trash and told staff to study some options in depth. No decisions about a preferred technology will be made until at least this coming summer.
8. Metro moves forward on hotel, but lawsuits keep coming
Plans to build a 600-room hotel across from the Oregon Convention Center inched forward in 2014, but lawsuits from hotel opponents continued to slow down the progress of the project.
The Hyatt hotel, which could cost $212 million, would be used to attract conventions and possibly the NBA All-Star Game to Portland. In exchange for meeting certain criteria, including room quality, a union workforce and holding 500 of its rooms open for recruiting conventions, the hotel would receive $18 million in public investment.
Another $60 million in bonds would be paid off using room taxes collected on stays at the Hyatt. Developers would pay the remaining $134 million.
Proponents say construction of the hotel would support about 2,000 jobs. When complete, supporters say, the hotel would attract as many as 10 new national conventions a year, increasing convention-related tourism spending by $600 million in the Portland region.
Opponents, including the owners of several downtown hotels, filed lawsuits in Multnomah County and Clackamas County to try to slow the project, or force a vote on the subsidies. Both courts rejected the opponents' claims, and both were appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals. That process could take more than a year. Opponents also threatened a region-wide tax initiative to try to slow the project.
In the meantime, Metro continued to prepare to sell the $60 million in bonds to support construction. Metro also filed a motion asking a court to declare the bond sale to be legally valid, hoping to ease potential concerns from investors about the bond sales. That motion was approved.
What's next: If the legal situation is clarified, the bond sale could occur in 2015 – setting the stage for groundbreaking. But that depends on whether opponents continue to fight the plan in court despite a series of legal defeats.
9. Grand bargain sets Washington County reserves
In a whip-snap quick bit of maneuvering at the Oregon Legislature, stakeholders ranging from developers to land conservation advocates to all levels of government hashed out a plan to settle lengthy land use battles on the region's westside.
The move came in February, after the Oregon Court of Appeals rejected some key provisions of the region's landmark urban and rural reserves plan. The plan had set aside areas to be targeted first for UGB expansions in the coming decades, and areas protected from development.
The court's ruling led to the possibility of years of process to re-designate urban and rural reserves, and prompted the Legislature to designate the reserves in Washington County. The Legislature also formalized Metro's most recent UGB expansions near Hillsboro, Beaverton and Tigard.
What's next: One thing the Legislature didn't settle is the Court of Appeals' ruling that an urban reserve designation in the Stafford Basin was properly justified. Work to address that question should continue in 2015.
10. Four re-elections, and a charter measure
Four Metro councilors were on the ballot in 2014. Only one of them drew an opponent.
District councilors Kathryn Harrington, Carlotta Collette and Shirley Craddick all were re-elected without opposition in May's primary, while Metro Council President Tom Hughes garnered 79 percent of the vote in his race against opponent Jeremiah Johnson. With Metro Auditor Suzanne Flynn opting not to seek another term, senior auditor Brian Evans ran unopposed to replace his boss.
In November, voters were asked whether to retain a provision in the Metro Charter prohibiting the regional government from requiring density increases in most single-family neighborhoods. That provision passed with 76 percent of votes.
What's next: The Metro Council inauguration ceremony is 4 p.m. Jan. 6 at the Oregon Convention Center's Oregon Ballroom.
Two words: Lion cubs
Metro supports transit-oriented development projects in Kenton, Hillsboro, elsewhere
Packy's musth complicates treatment for tuberculosis
Oregon Convention Center could get rooftop solar panels
High bond rating means more money for natural areas projects
National high school cross country tournament comes to Glendoveer
'Atlas of Design' features Metro's Vamanos maps
Metro Council approves Regional Active Transportation Plan
Glendoveer's footgolf course hopes to attract new visitors
Tigard passes 50,000 in population
Regional leaders discuss state transportation funding
Columbia River Crossing dies in Salem, but lives on in Regional Transportation Plan
Metro launches Our Big Backyard quarterly magazine
2013: A Hyatt, a levy and development everywhere: Metro's 2013 stories of the year
2012: Elephants, hotels, natural areas and a barge: Metro's 2012 stories of the year
Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated why Metro Auditor Suzanne Flynn was not on the ballot. She chose not to seek another term; there are no term limits for Metro Auditor. This version has been corrected.