Nearly 20 people testified Thursday as the Metro Council took input on how to wrap up its designation of urban and rural reserves in Clackamas and Multnomah counties.
At its second public hearing on reserves, speakers had a variety of opinions on how the Metro Council should proceed.
In 2010, the Metro Council and Clackamas County Commission jointly designated the Stafford area as an urban reserve, one of the areas the Metro Council can look at first for potential urban growth boundary expansions before 2060.
But cities surrounding the Stafford area in Clackamas County sued, saying Metro didn't adequately consider whether the roads around Stafford could handle future growth. The appeals court agreed, issuing what's known as a remand to send the plan back for further review.
The solution, according to Metro, is to bolster its findings and supporting documentation about the future capacity of roads in the area. Metro says growth in the Stafford Basin can be planned in a way that ensures roads will accommodate new development.
Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith thinks a broader solution is needed. Smith read a letter from her board urging the Metro Council to re-examine all of the region’s urban reserves.
The commission said the Oregon Legislature’s decision to scale back urban reserves in Washington County in 2014 means the land should be made up somewhere else.
“Clackamas County is short on land for the future, particularly employment land,” the letter says.
West Linn Mayor Russ Axelrod didn’t talk about how much land is needed, but said the Stafford area isn’t the right fit for tens of thousands of new residents.
“Anything approaching Metro’s planned level of development would significantly compromise the quality of life our cities share and enjoy,” Axelrod said. “Stafford is to West Linn what Forest Park or Tryon Creek is to Portland, in terms of its buffering influence and sense of place.”
Stafford Hamlet board member Dave Adams said at a minimum, the Metro Council should reconsider designating the northern, hilly parts of Stafford as an urban reserve.
“I feel like an innocent man condemned to hang. It’s as if our community has had this noose around our neck for almost 25 years now,” Adams said. “The evidence to free us is in clear sight, and it keeps coming up time and time again. The north section doesn’t meet the criteria” for urban reserves, he said.
Charlotte Lehan, a former Clackamas County Commissioner and one of the key negotiators of the reserves designations, said she thought the northern part of Stafford should be undesignated, as well.
“I was overruled by the rest of my commission at the county level,” Lehan said. “Parts of Stafford are very different. Parts are imminently developable within a 50 year timeframe. Other parts are so extremely special and spectacular and difficult to urbanize that they should be protected at least at the level Tryon Creek is.”
But, she said, any fix should not include urbanizing south of the Willamette River.
“I have faith in your ability to find a solution that does not jeopardize the whole urban and rural reserves process, and does not risk tearing the heart of agriculture out of the Willamette Valley,” she said.
Much like the arguments coming from Stafford, a community leader from Boring said the urban reserve designation in that community was a mistake.
“Boring wants to be undesignated,” said Steve Bates. He suggested allowing development in some parts of Boring, but limiting development of farmland, “so Boring can be Boring for now and into the future.”
Dee Anders, a Boring resident, disagreed.
“The Boring urban reserve provides one of Clackamas County’s few identified employment land opportunities,” Anders said. “Please continue to keep Boring urban reserves under consideration for future development.”
But some people testified that the Metro Council and Clackamas County Commission got it right in 2010.
“My husband and I fully support Metro’s mission to focus only on the Stafford remand,” said Mollala-area resident Susan Hansen. “We are appalled the Clackamas County Commissioners are putting the entire Metro reserves process at risk.”
Hansen said she was drawn out by attempts to bring part of the area between Wilsonville and Salem along Interstate 5 into the urban reserve.
“If land speculators seek private profit, let them use their personal funds for a legal challenge,” she said. “Please stay on course and only consider the Stafford remand.”
Charbonneau resident Charles Patterson said he thought bigger forces were at work in the reserves debate.
“Granting the county’s request means reopening an immediate return to annual fights over the next piece of ground,” Patterson said, “because all I want is the land next to mine. And that goes on and on endlessly, thus destroying the state land use process – which by the way is the goal – the underlying, unspoken goal.”
He said investors hoping to develop land south of the river should not be rewarded.
“They need to know, as I’m sure they do, that land speculation sometimes fails,” Patterson said. “The reserves process worked in Clackamas County. Please end the torture and bring this process to a close, and let’s move onto the next phase, which is obviously going to be in the Legislature.”
A solution in Salem is not, however, a foregone conclusion. If the Metro Council and Clackamas County Commission agreed to new findings on Stafford, and sent that to state regulators for review, the designations could be finalized without work from the Legislature.
The Metro Council is set to get a report from its planning staff on the reserves designations in December.