Tensions rising over Basalt Creek planning
The Basalt Creek planning process moving forward depends in large part on Tualatin's partners — and they weren't quite on board with the Tualatin City Council's decision this month to designate a piece of the planning area for residential development rather than industrial use.
Tualatin is jointly planning out the development of Basalt Creek, an unincorporated area south of the city, with Wilsonville. The cities have agreed that they will share a jurisdictional boundary along the future Basalt Creek Parkway through the area once it is annexed into the cities.
The first phase of the parkway now is under construction. Another phase will extend it east to Boones Ferry Road, with longer-range plans calling for it to eventually cross over Interstate 5.
But as road infrastructure is built out in the largely undeveloped area, a roadmap for development has yet to be finalized.
Duyck: 'Big mistake' to reduce industrial land
Washington County must sign off on a land use concept map, once Tualatin and Wilsonville jointly adopt it, and before the annexations occur.
But the county has pushed back on the idea of the "central subarea," immediately south of Tualatin's Victoria Gardens neighborhood, being designated as residential instead of industrial.
Andy Duyck, chairman of the Washington County Board of Commissioners, sent a letter to the City of Tualatin last October warning that "eliminating industrial land beyond what the latest concepts show would be a big mistake for the economic health of South County and counter to our agreement."
The county commissioned an evaluation by the design services firm Mackenzie supporting its position that the central subarea can support industrial development. Duyck sent another letter referencing the study to Mayor Lou Ogden and the Tualatin City Council on Jan. 12, which concluded, "I continue to stress that, given the analysis, the land should remain employment land as indicated in the planning work conducted by the cities of Tualatin and Wilsonville."
The topography of the subarea is rugged, with slopes that exceed a 20 percent grade in places. Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden said that after a property owner alerted him last year to the physical constraints on the land, he began doing his own research and concluded — despite the analysis of Mackenzie and city and county staff — that industrial development on the land was not practical.
Tualatin has seesawed between draft land use maps calling for more residential development and more industrial development for the 184 developable acres on its side of the Basalt Creek area, while Wilsonville has largely held firm in wanting nearly all of its share of the planning area to have an industrial zoning. Throughout the process, Ogden has argued for more "employment lands" on Tualatin's side of the future city line, making him an unusual advocate for residential zoning in the central subarea.
"I just want to repeat — I know it's ad nauseam — but I'm driven on topography, not on the political use of the land," Ogden stressed at the Feb. 13 meeting at which the decision was made. "There are people up here that are probably more driven on the political use of the land, which is fine. That's not where I'm coming from."
No meeting scheduled yet
After Ogden told Tualatin staff to approve the residential designation, Assistant City Manager Alice Cannon said staff will need the council's "leadership" in the process.
"As a staff, we would appreciate your leadership moving forward for this change. I mean, we've talked about the fact that our partners wanted the employment land, and this is a diversion from that. We will need your help," Cannon said.
Ogden said he has reached out to the city's partners on the project — Washington County, the City of Wilsonville and Metro — and has spoken with Duyck and Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen about it.
A joint meeting of the Tualatin and Wilsonville city councils is expected to be held this spring for joint adoption of the concept map. However, that meeting has yet to be scheduled, Tualatin city officials told The Times.
"They aren't happy about the choice of land uses," Tualatin City Manager Sherilyn Lombos said.
She added, "We don't have a meeting set up with them yet. I think they're kind of dissecting it and figuring out what it means for them."
Tualatin City Councilor Paul Morrison, a proponent of the change, said after the Feb. 13 meeting, "Wilsonville's going to be really ticked, but I don't imagine they're going to walk away."
Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp said Feb. 14 he was not prepared to comment on the decision. He said Wilsonville city staff are in touch with their Tualatin counterparts on the issue.
Before he makes any statement on the decision, Knapp said, "I need to have time to have them become fully informed on where they are and what the options are."
Knapp did not respond to a subsequent email this week.
Lombos said Wilsonville has been anxious to conclude the joint planning process, waiting on Tualatin to finalize the desired land uses for its share of Basalt Creek.
"I think that Wilsonville has been really clear about what they want on their side of the border, and we haven't gotten into that. We haven't had our fingers in it. And I think what the Tualatin council decides that they want ... shouldn't be the type of thing that scuttles it," Lombos said.
Morrison said likewise.
"I think Tualatin needs to be allowed to do what's good and right for Tualatin," he said.
Lombos does not expect her council to meet again on its own to discuss the draft land use concept map, although she said city staff are working on balancing out the number of "trips" generated from Tualatin's side of Basalt Creek. Much of the joint work between Tualatin and Wilsonville on Basalt Creek planning has focused on balancing out the impact to the transportation system between the cities' respective shares of the land.
The next step, she said, is for Tualatin and Wilsonville staff to get together and schedule a joint meeting between the city councils.
Aquilla Hurd-Ravich, Tualatin's planning manager, said after the Feb. 13 meeting that she doesn't think the change in designation for the central subarea is likely to derail the joint planning efforts.
Metro, county will have role later in process
Once the concept plan is jointly approved, Metro will evaluate it to ensure it meets state and regional requirements.
"It's our job to evaluate what the city has recommended, and make recommendations back if we feel like it's lacking in some area," Dirksen said.
Asked for his comments on the Tualatin City Council's decision, Dirksen noted that Metro brought the Basalt Creek area into the urban growth boundary with the intent that it be developed as employment lands.
"But while we would prefer to see that, we need to consider how to weigh that against what's actually feasible for development. If it actually isn't feasible physically as employment land development, having it designated as such wouldn't mean that any employment development takes place there," he said.
Of the decision, Dirksen said, "Once we see what the final resolution is ... Metro will have to look at that and what that does to our overall available of employment land and see what needs to be done as a result of that impact. At present, such an evaluation has not been done."
Finally, Washington County must approve the addition of Basalt Creek into its agreements with Tualatin and Wilsonville for the annexations to go forward.
If a concept map is jointly approved, Metro says it complies with its code and Washington County approves amendments to allow the land to be annexed, the process will move into a new phase as plans gradually become reality.
Annexations and development will be driven by property-owners, Hurd-Ravich said. With the county's blessing, the owners of pieces of land like the central subarea will be able to petition a city — Tualatin north of Basalt Creek Parkway, Wilsonville south of it — for annexation and subsequently develop their properties according to local zoning requirements.