Lawmakers in Salem are rushing to complete a so-called land use grand bargain before the 2014 Oregon Legislature ends March 9. by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - A farmer works his land in South Hillsboro, much of which is likely to be converted into housing under a planning process that has been under way for many years.

A breakthrough was reached Sunday after days of intense negotiations involving state and local officials, conservationists and farmers. The first hearing was held Tuesday. The deal is intended to ratify portions of previously approved urban and rural reserves and subsequent urban growth boundary expansions.

“It was an opportunity for everyone to start over — a legislatively convened out of court settlement,” said state Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem), who led the negotiations.

The agreement was crafted to resolve the uncertainty produced by the Feb. 20 Oregon Court of Appeals ruling that rejected a 50-year land use plan for the metropolitan area. Approving the grand bargain could be one of the most significant accomplishments of the legislative session. Failing to do so could undermine development plans that have been in the works for years in Beaverton and Hillsboro, and raise questions about Oregon’s vaunted land use planning system.

The agreement applies only to Washington County, with details expected to be released this week in Salem.

“I believe we have a framework for a deal. The [court] decision created uncertainty, and the agreement is intended to preserve both the best farmland and the best economic development opportunities,” said state Rep. Ben Unger (D-Hillsboro), who has been active in the negotiations.

“This is a good compromise for agriculture, residential and industrial interests in the county, and brings certainty to important decisions,” said Washington County Chairman Andy Duyck, who also took part in the negotiations.

Even Jason Miner, executive director of 1,000 Friends of Oregon, agreed.

“We have historically opposed the Legislature making land-use decisions, but this is an exception situation and a chance to restore the balance to the land-use planning system that the Legislature intended,” Miner said.

The negotiations involved many parties in the dispute, including state legislators and representatives of Metro, all three counties, and land use watchdogs such as 1000 Friends of Oregon and Save Helvetia, a grassroots group fighting to preserve farmland in rural Washington County. Also present was Richard Whitman, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s natural resources policy director.

A bill in the House Rules Committee will be used as the vehicle for the compromise. Public hearings will be held on HB 4078 before the committee and, potentially, the full Legislature votes on it.

Adding to the pressure, legislators must reach consensus during heated elections in Washington County, where the court decision threatens to stall development plans that have been in the works for years in Beaverton and Hillsboro.

Land use issues could shift the balance of power on the Washington County Board of Commissioners later this year.

Within hours of the court’s decision being released last week, two challengers were using it in their campaigns. Activist Allen Amabisca and former U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Furse issued statements blaming the ruling on pro-development county leaders. Amabisca is running against Duyck and Furse is challenging Washington County Commissioner Bob Terry.

The court ruling concerned urban and rural reserves approved by Metro and the state Land Conservation & Development Commission in 2011.

Metro officials asked the Legislature for approval to designate the reserves in 2007. The idea was to add certainly to the land use planning process by identifying where growth could and could not occur for the next 50 years. The Legislature agreed, and Metro spent three years working with Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas counties to identify the reserves.

The final plan was adopted in 2011 and was quickly challenged in the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Later that year, Metro also approved a series of urban growth boundary decisions. They were all within the previously-approved urban reserves. The majority — approximately 2,000 acres — were in Washington County. They included two key areas earmarked for residential development — South Cooper Mountain in Beaverton and South Hillsboro. Hillsboro plans to annex the South Hillsboro parcel as soon as the planning is complete. The boundary was also expanded to include a new industrial area being called North Hillsboro.

The boundary expansions were also challenged in court. They were essentially invalidated when the court rejected the urban and rural reserves plan in its ruling of Feb. 20, in spite of the work being done by Beaverton and Hillsboro.

Despite the focus on Washington County, the court ruled mistakes were made in the other counties, too. Multnomah County did not justify designating much of its undeveloped land between Portland and Beaverton as rural reserves. It included a 62-acre parcel adjacent to the North Bethany residential area that the owners want to sell for development. And the court found Clackamas County did not explain why the Stafford area should be designated an urban reserve when it is already facing growing congestion.

Legislators were already talking about intervening in the controversy before the court issued its ruling. State Rep. John Davis (R-Wilsonville) introduced a bill in the 2014 Legislature to ratify the boundary expansions. Unger (D-Hillsboro) was talking about ratifying some of them, but not others. Clem prepared a map of the region where compromises could be made, and idea that was strongly opposed by Metro and the Washington County Commission. But, according to Clem, all that changed when the appeals court remanded the reserves back to Metro and invalidated them.

Surprise role

Clem’s role in the negotiations is somewhat of a surprise, considering his district is outside the region. A fifth-generation Oregonian, Clem said he has long been interested in land use planning issues. He chairs the House Rural Communities Committee.

Clem said his desire to find a land use compromise this session stems from his experiences during the 2011 Legislature, when the House was evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

“Up until then, I had been very partisan,” said Clem. “But in 2011, the only way to get anything accomplished was to work with the other side. I learned that accommodating different points of view leads to better results. It was a transformational experience.”

“It will be a real accomplishment if it passes,” said Davis. “It will bring certainty to Washington County for many years to come.”

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