A landmark agreement that passed the Legislature Tuesday could finally end years of stalled growth in the Portland region.
The Oregon Senate unanimously passed House Bill 4078 on Tuesday, sending the comprehensive land use bill to Gov. John Kitzhaber for approval. The House unanimously passed the bill last week.
In its approved form, the bill aims to solve the years of debate on the future of growth in Washington County by offering a little something for everyone.
If Kitzhaber signs the bill, land conservationists would get a significant dial back of Washington County's urban reserve designations, while pro-growth cities from western Washington County would see an immediate expansion of Metro's urban growth boundary near their cities. That would also appease developers, eager to turn dirt on land Metro brought into the urban growth boundary in 2011.
Metro would avoid a protracted debate over where to designate urban and rural reserves in Washington County, and would see its future UGB expansion decisions fast-tracked in the courts.
"This bill gives us the basis to work towards the next decision about the urban growth boundary," said Metro Council President Tom Hughes. "Of all of the options presented to us in the last few weeks, this is the best possible solution."
The bill was originally opposed by Metro and many Washington County leaders, but opinions changed after the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled Feb. 20 that Washington County's designation of rural reserves earlier this decade was handled illegally. The ruling led to the very real prospect that Washington County would have to start from scratch in designating rural reserves, which will be locked out from development for the next 50 years.
Instead of starting over, many of the parties to the litigation met for settlement negotiations starting Feb. 21, with their verbal agreement forming the basis for the version of HB 4078 that made it to the House and Senate floors.
The agreement only applied to the urban and rural reserves in Washington County. Clackamas County remained neutral about the bill, and officials said that the county, Metro and the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development will work together to address legal issues with Metro's designation of the Stafford Basin as urban reserves.
The bill also was quiet on the court's remand of a rural reserve designation in Multnomah County. That is also likely to be addressed by DLCD.
Meanwhile, on the westside, there's at long last a legal path for developing a large piece of farmland south of Hillsboro. Under the old system for expanding the urban growth boundary, that land, surrounded on three sides by city, was unlikely to ever be developed. The old system made it extremely difficult to urbanize farmland, leading to costly, politically cumbersome boundary expansions in hilly areas like Bethany and Damascus.
Jeff Bachrach, an attorney for the developer of the Reed's Crossing project, said Tuesday that work could begin on the site in about a year.
"We're obviously delighted the Legislature decided to intervene," Bachrach said.
But to Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, the bill was more than an intervention.
"I simply have never before had a chance to be a part of a miracle," Edwards said after his vote.