2018: Metro steps in to resolve Basalt Creek dispute
Editor's note: This story is part of the The Times' special series, "Decade in Review." This series features three stories that helped to define each year of the 2010s. These can retell single stories that captivated readers of the time, a saga that played out across many articles, and even stories that were crowded to the margins by other news at the time but have made a lasting impact on our region.
In many ways, Tualatin and Wilsonville are mirror images.
Tualatin is mostly located in Washington County, with part of it jutting into Clackamas County. Wilsonville is mostly located in Clackamas County, but it extends north into Washington County as well.
The cities are of similar population, with Wilsonville a shade under 25,000 and Tualatin closer to 27,000. Their economies share similarities, too: Both cities are located along Interstate 5 and have atypically large industrial and retail zones, making them attractive for manufacturing and high-tech businesses, as well as being regional shopping destinations.
A quiet rivalry between Tualatin and Wilsonville has existed for years. And although the cities appeared to put their differences aside to jointly plan the future of the so-called Basalt Creek planning area, a swath of rugged, unincorporated land in Washington County that lies immediately to Tualatin's south and Wilsonville's north, it was a combination of economic interests and political issues that ultimately kept them from coming to an agreement on their own.
It almost worked out according to plan.
The Tualatin and Wilsonville city councils held an amicable joint meeting in December 2015 on Basalt Creek. They agreed on a resolution for what had been the biggest obstacle in their planning effort to that point: which parts of Basalt Creek each city will be allowed to annex. Southwest Basalt Creek Parkway was designated as the future jurisdictional boundary.
Good — one big issue, resolved through compromise.
A year later, everything seemed to be on track for a joint plan to be approved early in 2017. Tualatin councilors said they would designate much of Tualatin's side of Basalt Creek for residential use, but they would also provide a buffer for their partner city's plan to have industrial development on the Wilsonville side of Basalt Creek.
However, two key things happened after the 2016 election: Paul Morrison, a resident of the Victoria Gardens neighborhood just north of Basalt Creek, was elected to the Tualatin City Council, and Mayor Lou Ogden, until then a reliable advocate for Tualatin's proposed mix of housing and industrial development in Basalt Creek, was persuaded to support Victoria Gardens residents and Basalt Creek property-owners' calls for Tualatin to instead designate a key "subarea" of Basalt Creek for more housing. The Tualatin City Council opted to change its version of the plan.
Wilsonville's leaders protested, as did the Washington County Board of Commissioners. Tualatin was going back on its commitments, they said. Wilsonville officials worried that more housing on the Tualatin side would discourage industrial businesses from building on the Wilsonville side. Tualatin officials and property-owners argued that Wilsonville's concerns shouldn't dictate Tualatin's own plans.
2018 was when the dispute finally came to a head. With a deadlock between Tualatin and Wilsonville over how the so-called central subarea should be zoned, the regional government Metro agreed to step in as an arbitrator.
In May 2018, the Metro Council formally sided with Wilsonville, requiring Tualatin to designate the central subarea — with 42 buildable acres in all — for industrial use.
"The area is close to Interstate 5, has good existing and planned transportation infrastructure, including the Basalt Creek Parkway, consists of relatively large parcels, and is in close proximity to other areas planned and developed for employment uses," wrote Martha Bennett, then Metro's chief operating officer, in her recommendation.
Tualatin officials weren't happy, but they had no choice but to comply. The city shelved its objections and agreed to follow Metro's mandate.
Virtually all of the other issues between Tualatin and Wilsonville had been resolved — many of them for years already by the time Metro completed its arbitration. Although it had been delayed for more than a year by the dispute, the Basalt Creek concept plan was finally adopted by both the Tualatin and Wilsonville city councils in August 2018.
The 847-acre planning area isn't expected to be developed right away. Under an agreement between the cities, Washington County and Metro, Tualatin and Wilsonville will gradually annex pieces of Basalt Creek up to Basalt Creek Parkway, the dividing line that was determined back in 2015. Property-owners won't be forced to sell their land or redevelop it if they don't want to, but as Basalt Creek slowly urbanizes, it will do so along the lines set out in the concept plan.
The first phase of Basalt Creek Parkway itself opened in 2017. The road is set to be extended as far east as Southwest Boones Ferry Road sometime in the early 2020s.
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