Property owner asks city to rezone 33-acre site

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - This 33-acre property, above, once was part of a much larger farm run by Wilsonville resident Ralph Elligsen. Now, its the last piece remaining and he wants to sell. The only problem? Zoning limiting future users to industrial uses. Elligsen said he has plenty of would-be commercial buyers - and none for industrial projects.The specter of Cabela’s just won’t leave Wilsonville alone.

The popular sporting goods retail giant has already announced the 2014 opening of a new store in Tualatin’s Nyberg Woods development. Now, the owner of property in north Wilsonville that once was considered a potential site for that project is back to remind city officials of what could have been.

Wilsonville resident Ralph Elligsen and his attorney, Ron Dusek of West Linn, appeared before the Wilsonville City Council Oct. 7 to ask for council backing for a plan to rezone Elligsen’s 33 acres for commercial use instead of industrial as it is currently zoned.

The council appeared surprisingly receptive to the request, which would require both the city and Metro, the regional government, to sign off.

“He would like to sell the property,” said Dusek, who spoke for Elligsen during their brief appearance. He told the council it is increasingly difficult to farm the land and earlier attempts to sell the property fell through.

“Like I said, it’s zoned industrial and most of the folks who are looking at that property are interested in commercial," said Dusek. "So he’s here today to ask the city council for some help, some input, on what he can do about getting the zoning changed to commercial.”

That might sound simple. But the issue of zoning is at the heart of why Wilsonville ultimately was sidestepped in favor of its northerly neighbor for Cabela's.

To accommodate Elligsen, the city itself would first have to rezone the property for commercial use — the simple part of the equation where Elligsen is concerned. The city then would have to convince Metro to remove the “regionally significant industrial area” designation from the site — a bigger task entirely.

“The challenges in Wilsonville, obviously, are that that piece of property is not zoned or comp(prehensive) planned for what they are proposing,” Mayor Tim Knapp said last year in response to a Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce campaign suggesting the Cabela's still maintained interest in the city.

Knapp said at the time that the city’s comprehensive plan contains wording stating Wilsonville does not desire to become a regional retail center.

“For a store on the scale they are talking about that would require some pretty significant discussion and a change in our plans,” he said.

According to Tim O’Brien, Metro’s principal regional planner, two avenues exist to remove the regionally significant industrial area designation from a property.

One is an administrative process that requires an applicant and the property in question to adhere to certain restrictions pertaining to the impact on employment, transportation and other areas. One of those rules, however, limits to 10 acres the size of a property eligible for this process. This seemingly rules out the Elligsen site, which is three times that size.

"That’s a process that would allow the city to go ahead and do it as long as they adopted findings in their comprehensive plan that met the requirements in our code," O'Brien said. "But they wouldn’t meet that last one in our code.”

That leaves the Metro Council, which may consider proposed amendments to the industrial map at any time. O’Brien said this route is subject to political whims absent in the administrative process. But it also offers the flexibility to potentially re-designate properties of any size.

“That’s another option,” O’Brien said. “It would require a lot of back and forth with the city, and it’s not as clear cut as the other (process.) It’s much broader. (Metro Council) can do it at any time in order to better achieve its goals and policies. It’s more flexibility but a lot harder to do.”

None of that touches on a second issue — traffic counts — that also helped halt the project in 2010. Most estimates project the amount of traffic generated by a commercial development at five times that created by a similar-sized industrial site. And the existing Elligsen Road-Interstate 5 interchange would require significant additional expansion just a few years after more than $20 million was poured into the area in an effort to improve freeway access.

Rezoning the site for commercial use, thus would likely require further expansion of the surrounding road and interchange capacity.

Nonetheless, some councilors responded positively last week to Elligsen’s overture, instructing city staff to return with a report on the history of the site and the process for potentially rezoning it for commercial use.

“You’d be changing from an industrial designation to a commercial designation, so it’s obviously going to intensify use of that site significantly and there are going to be impacts regarding that choice, if you decide to support that,” warned Wilsonville City Manager Bryan Cosgrove, who said staff would present a white paper outlining the issues at stake probably by the council’s Nov. 16 meeting.

Josh Kulla can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 113. Follow him on Twitter, @wspokesman.

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