'The traffic is a nightmare - and that's not even considering that water and sewer are going to be needed for this.'

With Clackamas County continuing to press forward in its quest to resolve the Stafford area development issue, the West Linn City Council made its own feelings clear at a special meeting Feb. 21.

Buoyed by a unanimous council vote, Mayor Russ Axelrod will draft a letter reaffirming the council's longstanding opposition of high density development in the rural Stafford area — a necessary step given that the council welcomed two new members in 2017.

"We're basically confirming the position the council has always had," Axelrod said.

The letter will be submitted as written testimony when Metro holds a public meeting on the matter March 2. Specifically, the letter will state that the council "supports the rural character of Stafford and does not think the area is appropriate for rural, dense development" while also emphasizing that West Linn "will work to ensure any type of development will not be placed on the backs of taxpayers."

The Stafford area is a nearly 4,000-acre buffer of rolling hills and woodlands between Lake Oswego, West Linn and Tualatin. Of those 4,000 acres, about 1,000 are considered to be developable, and Stafford has long been at the center of a battle between prospective developers and residents who value the rural status quo.

West Linn, Lake Oswego and Tualatin have long said they do not wish to develop the Stafford area, citing concerns with infrastructure and transportation. Yet in 2010, Metro designated the Stafford area as "urban reserve" land suitable for urban development within the next 40 to 50 years — a designation that was summarily reversed and remanded by the Oregon Court of Appeals in February 2014.

Though Metro would go on to adopt revised findings in response to that Court of Appeals decision, the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners decided in 2015 to halt any further action until the county had completed evaluations of three other sites that might be brought into the Portland regional urban growth boundary.

That plan changed when new county Chairman Jim Bernard took his seat in early 2017 and opted to put those evaluations aside — thus bringing Stafford back to the center of development discussions. Metro will hold hearings on its revised findings March 2 and March 16, and the county board is set to address the matter April 12.

"I'm certainly going to be there, other councilors can come too and provide testimony with regard to our concerns and our position," Axelrod said. "We're also beginning discussions, of course, with the neighboring cities. We have not sat down with the county yet."

The cities and Metro held a series of facilitated discussions last year in an effort to find a solution to the Stafford problem, but Axelrod said those sessions ultimately fell short of their intended outcome.

"Those discussions ended with an agreement to disagree on a position," Axelrod said, "sort of kicking down the road, if you will, further analysis or assessment of the Stafford situation."

Stafford Hamlet Board Chair Jay Minor attended the council's Feb. 21 meeting and advocated for the "Stafford Compromise" that was approved by hamlet voters in 2014. Of the 292 people who voted, more than 80 percent supported the compromise that called for the area around Borland Road to be developed as urban reserve, with the rest of Stafford in the area north of the Tualatin River falling under the "undesignated" category.

"The compromise is logical and workable," Minor said. "And something that would take the development pressure cooker off of the area and allow us to still have a rural area."

City Council President Brenda Perry said that while she liked the concept of the Stafford Compromise, even limited development might be too much for the surrounding cities to handle.

"If we let a chink in, it starts opening up the door for things," Perry said. "With our traffic and congestion issues right now, I don't see how we can even consider anything — even the Borland compromise at this time, the hamlet compromise. The traffic is a nightmare — and that's not even considering that water and sewer are going to be needed for this."

City Councilor Bob Martin added that he was disappointed with how the county appeared to be handling the matter unilaterally and ignoring concerns from the cities. He also referenced Senate Bill 1573, which passed at the 2016 Legislature and put decision-making authority on annexations solely in the hands of elected officials — thus eliminating the public votes in places like West Linn.

"My understanding was that the City Council makes the decision on annexations — we can't be forced to annex," Martin said. "So if we talk to Lake Oswego and Tualatin and we all agree that we will not annex, period — they can make this as urban as they want, but we will not annex — then they're looking at another Damascus. And the alternative they have is to develop (Stafford) as a separate city, which I don't think Metro wants to do or anyone wants to do.

"And I'm not saying we do that, but I think if we had it as a bargaining position — and they know that — then we have a lot more power."

Martin also mentioned the idea of annexing the Stafford land and zoning it in a way that would prohibit development.

For now, the council is simply reiterating its general anti-development position in advance of the Metro and county hearings.

"We hope that we can get the county to kind of see it our way and partner with us, partner with the cities," Axelrod said. "We want to work with the county. We do."

By Patrick Malee
Assistant Editor, West Linn Tidings
Pamplin Media Group
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