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But there's more to it, says attorney Ken Dobson, citing an earlier appeal and a state enforcement order in 2017.

COURTESY PHOTO: WASHINGTON COUNTY LAND USE & TRANSPORTATION - A map of the proposed development in Cedar Mill of the Estates at Leahy Park, located off Northwest Leahy Road.A local environmental group is fighting to save trees on the site of a proposed development in Cedar Mill.

Treekeepers of Washington County is appealing Washington County's preliminary approval of a development off Northwest Leahy Road. One of the group's founders, Joanne Delmonico, said the site of the proposed Estates at Leahy Park includes a significant natural resource area.

As part of the appeal process, county officials organized a public hearing on May 31, which went as expected, said attorney Kenneth Dobson, who's working with Treekeepers.

The hearings officer set an open records period, which allows anyone to submit evidence or testimony within 14 days — until 4 p.m. June 14 — then allows time for responses and final rebuttals over 14 more days, until June 28.

The hearings officer is expected to reach a final decision by July 21, according to Melissa De Lyser, a spokesperson with Washington County Land Use & Transportation.

De Lyser said it's an "ongoing challenge" for the county to balance the need for housing and the need for natural resources protection, as both are priorities for Oregon's land-use planning framework.

The county granted the preliminary approval of the development based on its existing development code, De Lyser said, but Dobson said there's more context needed for what's going on.

He's been fighting Washington County's environmental regulations for years.

Dobson worked with a group of neighbors in the Metzger area to oppose another development around late 2016. In a January 2017 public hearing, a hearings officer said that the county's protections of significant natural areas could not be enforced, Dobson said, because they were not "clear and objective."

The group then appealed the decision to the state, Dobson said, which agreed: the county's rules designed to protect these natural resources were not clear and objective, which is required under Goal 5, a statewide planning goal covering various resources.

"What Washington County was left with was a Goal 5 program that did not protect certain natural resources. … There were simply no protections left for that," Dobson said.

Then, Dobson went to the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission.

In a May 2020 ruling, the agency said the county was out of compliance with statewide planning goals and ordered the county to stop processing housing development applications for significant natural resource areas until the county adopted new regulations.

"Fast-forward to October of 2020. Washington County, in response to that enforcement order, adopted new rules," Dobson said. "Now these new rules were — in my opinion — pointless, because it gave developers the right to remove up to 85 percent of a significant natural resource."

Dobson then appealed the new rules to the state's Land Use Board of Appeals in late 2021, for several reasons, including saying the new rules were still not "clear and objective."

That appeal ended with the state remanding the decision back to Washington County, telling the county to fix its rules again, Dobson said. That's where things are now.

"We know that developments going to happen," Delmonico said. "We know this 8 acres (in Cedar Mill) is an area that is likely to be developed … but we just really would like (the county) to look at, again, this statewide Goal 5 and really do what's right."

Delmonico also said she wishes the county and developer would look at more creative solutions to allow trees to coexist with the development.

With all that's happened, Dobson said, the county now falls back on its old rules — which is why it said it could grant the preliminary approval to the Cedar Mill development.

"But then we're back to the same problem we were two years ago, that the county really has no enforceable protections for significant natural resources, yet they still approve these applications," he said.

De Lyser said county planners are working to address the issues identified in the remand from the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, but they does not have a completion date, "as the land use ordinance process is fairly complex and can be lengthy."

If the hearings officer ends up siding with the county, Dobson said his group will go back to the state and argue that Goal 5 should be the standard when a county — in this case, Washington County — doesn't have a functioning plan.

"We have very few areas left in the urban county that are considered (significant natural resources)," Delmonico said. "It's dwindling by the day, and we're trying to preserve the little bit we have left for habitat for some wildlife."

Editor's note: A previous version of this story said county officials set the open records period. The open records period was set by the hearings officer, who is not a county official. This story has been corrected.


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