The 2014 Oregon Legislature will be asked to jump start development on almost 2,000 acres in Washington County areas — North Hillsboro, South Hillsboro and the South Cooper Mountain area in Beaverton.

State Rep. John Davis (R-Wilsonville) plans to introduce a bill to essentially ratify a 2011 decision by the Metro Council to add these areas to the county’s urban growth boundaries. Work in these areas has been stalled while the Oregon Court of Appeals considers a challenge to an earlier Metro decision that designated them as urban reserves where development could occur.

The bill will be filed during a time of growing backlash against accelerating growth in Washington County. Last week, former 1st District U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Furse filed to run against incumbent Washington County Commissioner Bob Terry, claiming that the current commission supports too much development in existing urban areas.

The challenge to Metro’s designation of both urban and rural reserves was filed with the appeals court more than 15 months ago. Davis said the delay is unreasonable and is preventing the cities of Hillsboro and Beaverton from preparing for future growth. Both the South Hillsboro and South Cooper Mountain areas are targeted for residential development, while North Hillsboro is intended for industrial development.

“The land use process is broken and needs fixing,” explained Davis, a real estate lawyer.

According to Davis, even if the appeals court rules before the Legislature convenes in February, the three parcels still face years of potential legal challenges. The urban and rural reserves ruling can be appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court, and the 2011 UGB expansions have already been challenged in the appeals court.

“We can’t wait years for the challenges to be decided,” said Davis, noting that the Beaverton School District is already planning to build a new high school in the South Cooper Mountain area to accommodate new and existing students.

Davis’ bill is expected to be opposed by environmentalists, including 1000 Friends of Oregon, an advocacy group that is challenging the urban and rural reserves designations as well as the 2011 UGB expansions.

“We would oppose any attempt to restrict the public’s right to participate in the land use planning process, including appealing land use planning decisions,” said Mary Kyle McCurdy, policy director and staff attorney for 1000 Friends of Oregon.

The affected governments — Metro, Hillsboro and Beaverton — have not yet taken a stand on the bill. But according to Metro spokesman Jim Middaugh, government officials are growing impatient.

“People who are following the issue of managing growth in the Portland area are frustrated,” Middaugh said, “by the amount of time it is taking to resolve the legal challenges to the designation of urban and rural reserves that were unanimously adopted by Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties and the Metro Council.”

According to Middaugh, the best outcome would be for the Court of Appeals to issue a ruling.

“In the meantime,” he added, “the Metro Council will be discussing how best to resolve the uncertainty created by the lack of a clear legal ruling. Until then, and until there’s a specific piece of legislation, Metro can’t offer any specific reaction to general legislative concepts.”

Metro, the elected regional government, administers the UGB that determines where development can occur. State land use planning laws require Metro to maintain a 20-year supply of buildable land within the UGB. The Metro Council has historically reviewed regional population projections and adjusted the boundary every five years. But in 2007, at Metro’s request, the Oregon Legislature authorized Metro and the three counties covered by the UGB to designate urban reserves where development could occur over the next 50 years, and rural reserves which would remain free from development.

Metro and the counties designed urban and rural reserves outside the UGB in 2010. Metro then approved four expansion areas totaling nearly 2,000 acres within the urban reserves in 2011. Both decisions were challenged before the Oregon Court of Appeals in 2012. The appeals court heard the challenges to the urban and rural reserves first. If it invalidates those designations, there would be no reason to hear the UGB challenges — they would be thrown out, too.

Planning has been under way on North Hillsboro, South Hillsboro and South Cooper Mountain for many years. Work is not likely to start, however, until the appeals are exhausted or the Oregon Legislature intervenes. State land use planning laws allow it to use “super siting” authority to approve land for development.

That’s what Davis believes needs to happen.

“Metro is already preparing to consider the next round of UGB expansions,” said Davis.

McCurdy said Metro could consider the UGB expansion again, but not tie it to the urban and rural reserves designations.

“Metro didn’t have to do what it did. That delayed the UGB appeals,” said McCurdy.

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