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Council declines to back Elligsen request


Wilsonville owner sought council support to remove of regionally significant label from 33-acre property

by: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - This 33-acre farm in north Wilsonville has been sitting in limbo for years as owner Ralph Elligsen has sought to have it rezoned for commercial use. The Wilsonville City Council declined last week to support those efforts.The Wilsonville City Council declined Jan. 6 to back a proposed appeal to Metro to remove a “regionally significant industrial area” designation from a 33-acre parcel adjacent to Argyle Square in north Wilsonville.

A motion to support property owner Ralph Elligsen’s proposed appeal to the regional government was voted down 4-1. That result from the meeting marks a turning point in a saga that now stretches back more than three years and means Elligsen’s wish to have his land ultimately rezoned by the city for commercial use likely could be stymied for good.

Councilor Scott Starr was the most vocal supporter of Elligsen’s proposal, which has its roots in the ill-fated attempt by outdoor retailer Cabela’s to site a large retail store in Wilsonville back in 2010. At the time, there was some outcry about the city’s hesitation to embrace the popular company, which has since chosen a location just up Interstate 5 in Tualatin. But the issues cited at the time – transportation, employment and regional designations – still remain.

“There probably should have been a little more respect given to what the landowner wants to do,” said Starr, who added the city’s hands essentially are “tied” by Metro’s designation.

A 10-page white paper developed by city staff following Elligsen’s initial request for council backing last October laid out the myriad obstacles and issues his proposal would need to address, even with city and council support. They include ensuring adequate transportation capacity at the I-5-Elligsen Road interchange and compliance with state transportation planning rules, a need to avoid a detrimental impact on the town center, Old Town and other existing commercial areas and the preservation of adequate shovel-ready industrial land within the Metro urban growth boundary.

The last would likely be a sticking point of any appeal to Metro, which has the final say on any potential re-designation of this type. There currently are only nine sites in the three-county Metro region that are 25 acres or larger in size zoned for industrial use and could be shovel-ready for development within 180 days. One of them is the Elligsen property in north Wilsonville, which sits sandwiched between Argyle Square to the north and the Xerox campus to the south.

“It is a commodity that is vital to the region,” states the staff report, which was presented to the council by Planning Director Chris Neamtzu during a work session before the council’s regular meeting attended by Elligsen and his attorney, Ron Dusek.

One underlying issue that has also been a factor is the price of the property. Elligsen has not spoken publicly about the exact asking price, but testimony submitted to the city by Dusek prior to the meeting suggests they believe an appraisal of the land with an industrial designation could result in a value in excess of $12 million, while a commercial zoning designation could result in a value of $20 million or more.

These claims were immediately questioned by councilors.

“Cabela’s wouldn’t pay more than $10 million,” said Starr. “We’re not even in the same ballpark here. … As long as the owner asks for the same value it’s going to remain farmland, because no one is going to pay that price.”

“There is interest in both sides, both from commercial interests and industrial interests,” Neamtzu replied. “The latter is aware of the price point, so there’s not a lot of energy put forth bringing clients forward on that property. But there is interest on both sides, commercial and industrial.”

The intent of the designation, Neamtzu explained, is to preserve large property sites for traded-sector development, which typically refers to manufacturers.

“It’s intended to limit commercial uses,” he said.

Historically, industrial land is less expensive than commercial property because it is more limited in use and there is less competition for such sites. In the past, commercial developers often purchased industrial sites then lobbied for zone changes to allow a commercial use. Recent changes have made that nearly impossible, but the existing uses were grandfathered into place.

“That’s why the car dealerships were attracted to Wilsonville in the first place and used industrial zones to do so,” Neamtzu said.

City Manager Bryan Cosgrove also noted the huge influence the Oregon Department of Transportation also would have over any attempt now or in the future to re-designate the Elligsen site for commercial use.

“If you were going to seek to rezone that to commercial, I think it would be a long litigious effort,” Cosgrove said. “I don’t think ODOT would allow that big of a change. I think that would be your big fight.”