Recently, the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) upheld Metro’s complaint against Lake Oswego regarding the city council’s 2012 decision to remove an approximately 1-acre “tree grove” (called TG-13) from the overreaching “sensitive lands” program.

This 1-acre “tree grove” is within the urban growth boundary and already partially developed with homes. So, at issue was essentially the use of the private yards of a few citizens. And, despite the fact that the zoning allows for smaller lots and more homes on this property, that isn’t the development pattern. The city council knew this when it made its decision and determined that it was “unlikely” that TG-13 would be more densely developed and stripped of trees. With the tree code in effect on this property as well, there was not going to be a tree catastrophe.

Despite the Lake Oswego City Council’s reasonable, commonsense decision that also respected the property owners, Metro decided to flex its muscle and spend your tax dollars on a LUBA appeal. Was Metro really concerned about the environment? No. Metro’s vigorous pursuit of an appeal to LUBA was about power and politics and control. Their argument was focused on very trivial code language and the splitting of hairs. It got down to the difference between the uses of the word “unlikely” instead of the word “could.”

Metro argued that while the city determined that it was “unlikely” that further development would occur on these properties, the standard should have been if development “could” occur at all, not if it was “unlikely.” And so a yearlong legal process ensued that involved several private and publically paid attorneys wrangling over whether something “could occur” or was “unlikely to occur” on this 1 acre, partially developed residential yard.

The bottom line was that Metro’s planners did not want TG-13 removed from “sensitive lands” (because they said so) and were not going to stand for the Lake Oswego City Council making a decision that Metro planners didn’t agree with. While Metro claims to want to work with local governments as a partner, they have shown that they are anything but.

The fact that Metro wouldn’t respect the Lake Oswego City Council’s 6 to 1 decision regarding an acre of citizens’ backyards should be of significant concern to all cities and citizens within the Metro region.

We have a government bully on the loose that thinks nothing of spending our tax dollars to wield its power and force cities and citizens into submission. Metro thinks nothing of manipulating maps to remove truly sensitive areas or encouraging and financing development in actual environmentally sensitive areas such as floodplains along the Willamette river; yet some trees in citizens’ yards are subject to incredible overreaching scrutiny. The message Metro was really sending with their pursuit of this LUBA appeal was that our backyards are Metro’s to control and that local input and authority is lost.

Is Lake Oswego really going to stand for that or will we stand up to it?

Bob Thompson, Lake Oswego, is a member of LO Stewards PAC.

Contract Publishing

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