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Senior-living facility blocked from going into hilly area in unincorporated Clackamas County's Altamont neighborhood

Residents of an unincorporated area near Happy Valley were successful in persuading city voters to block a ballot measure to incorporate about 12 acres into city limits.

PHOTO BY: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - At an Oct. 18 rally against Measure 3-518 are Friends of Altamont member Jeff Albelo (from left), County Board Chair Jim Bernard, County Commissioner Ken Humberston and Altamont supporter Paul Shirey.With the failure of Measure 3-518 by a 40-to-60 percent margin in unofficial Nov. 7 election results, Prestige Senior Care won't be able to build a senior assisted-living facility at the corner of Johnson Creek Boulevard and Bristol Park Drive.

The election results represent a major victory for neighbors who were trying to block the proposed project with the help of key county officials, including County Board Chairman Jim Bernard and County Commissioner Ken Humberston, by saying the annexation would create a dangerous precedent.

City councilors who approved the annexation found themselves on the wrong side of county commissioners who opposed the "cherry stem" annexation that would have created an island of Happy Valley for the senior facility, connected only by a utility corridor. Clackamas County would still have been responsible for all the surrounding roads.

"That is poor planning practice," Humberston said, celebrating the election results on Nov. 7. "If the election had gone the other way, it certainly doesn't bode well for people whose neighborhoods become the avenue through which traffic goes, but have no say as to what's going on in their neighborhoods because they are not citizens of Happy Valley. If they want to annex the entire area, where you're talking about a contiguous piece of land where the city can provide necessary services, then far be it for me to have much to say about it, because the city has the right to do appropriate annexations."

The election has been hard fought on both sides, leading to tens of thousands in campaign contributions, which is more typically seen in statewide initiatives, rather than in annexation requests.

Happy Valley Citizens For Progress has pressed the secretary of state to fine the group seeking to Repeal Ordinance Number 516, the ordinance that authorized the annexation, for late filings of campaign contributions. Altamont representatives have admitted that they have faced a steep learning curve as a volunteer organization just getting involved in local politics.

Meanwhile, the Washington-based company seeking to build the 50-foot-tall assisted-living facility spent $20,000 in an effort to get voters to pass a measure that would have allowed the construction. Both sides have spent much of their campaign contributions on advertising in Pamplin Media Group.

PHOTO BY: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Brooding clouds and stunning views greet visitors to the proposed site of Prestige Senior Living on the eve of its annexation request before Happy Valley voters.The Happy Valley Citizens for Progress group was disappointed with the election results, but expressed its gratitude to the voters of Happy Valley for their fair and thoughtful consideration.

"There were important issues involved, and the voters in this election indicated that the principles of property rights and citizen control of local government can be hijacked by disingenuous information from outside groups with an agenda. A message has been sent that certain types of developments and the people who might live there may not find themselves welcomed by certain neighborhoods," wrote Jim Syring in a press release on Nov. 7. "Most important, we are sorry our Happy Valley neighbors decided against welcoming a new group of seniors to our community. We feel it is a greater loss than the number of votes cast. With the extremely low voter turnout in this election, we hope that those who chose not to vote will hear the results of what has happened and will become more involved in the future stakes of our city and our community."

City officials approved the annexation in the unincorporated Altamont neighborhood in August 2015, but the unincorporated residents rallied volunteers to collect the signatures of more than 1,200 registered voters within city limits. Happy Valley was forced by the petition to put the question to its voters on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The Happy Valley Planning Commission voted 4-3 on Aug. 25, 2015, to allow the facility in the hilly area. City Council eventually gave its final approval in April after the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals sent the annexation back for additional requirements.

Friends of Altamont members said the petition showed how many residents of Happy Valley were equally eager to weigh in on priorities at the edges of the city. Nearly 1,300 acres have annexed into the city in the last 18 months since the disincorporation of Damascus.

More than 75 percent of Happy Valley voters in November 2008 gave City Council the power to approve annexation requests. The 2008 ballot measure approved a home-rule charter for the city.

Altamont residents were hoping the originally 7-acre site would be turned into an elementary school when it was donated to the North Clackamas School District. After declaring the property "surplus," NCSD marketed the property and entered into a sales agreement with Prestige for $2.9 million in 2014.

Bernard and Humberston acknowledged that the annexation would have been legal, but they encouraged the Oregon Legislature to pass a law that would prevent such property grabs by cities in the future.

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