Moratorium, pause, hiatus: They're words that all describe a period of inactivity.
But in the case of the development of the Stafford area on Lake Oswego's southern border, wording is everything.
Just ask Ezra Hammer, director of policy and government relations at the Home Builders Association of Metro Portland, who says the portion of the three-party intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between LO, West Linn and Tualatin that refers to a 10-year waiting period for any comprehensive planning north of the Tualatin River is "in effect a moratorium."
"We argue that the three cities' effective moratorium under the three-party IGA preclude them from receiving dollars to do any concept planning in Stafford," Hammer told The Review.
And that's why the HBA in March urged Metro and Clackamas County to withhold $170,000 worth of grant funds meant for the cities to conduct a traffic infrastructure study for Stafford.
"Given the scope of work necessary to determine what the Stafford area needs, we think it's foolhardy to engage in anything that's not full concept planning," Hammer said.
Last month, Metro Council President Lynn Peterson and Clackamas County Chair Jim Bernard issued a letter to the three cities informing them that they would indeed allow the deadline for those funds earmarked for traffic planning in urban reserve areas to expire on June 30, 2019 after extending it each year since the grant was awarded in 2015.
"Since the last extension, your cities entered a three-party agreement in January 2019 stating that no concept planning for the Stafford area will occur for the next ten years," the letter stated. "The agreement calls into question the continued relevance of the 2015 grant award, which was specifically intended to assess the demands that urban growth in Stafford would place on currently existing infrastructure in order to inform concept planning."
Bernard and Peterson went on to encourage the three cities to apply for new 2040 Metro Planning and Development grants in the future in order to address needs in Stafford.
The Home Builders Association has harshly criticized both the IGA and the three cities' handling of how they've approached planning and
governance in the Stafford area.
"Fundamentally this is an issue of where we want to go as a region," Hammer said. "We have three of the more affluent cities in the Metro area that have banded together to say, 'we're not interested in future growth.' They can couch it in whatever terms they want, but that's what they're saying."
The three-party IGA is a companion to the five-party IGA signed by the three cities, Metro and Clackamas County in 2017. It will serve as the outline for how Tualatin, West Linn and Lake Oswego will work together in the development of Stafford as an urban reserve. It states that no city can complete a concept plan or apply for urban growth boundary expansion into any part of Stafford until the state's I-205 widening project has been designed and fully funded, with construction scheduled to begin in two years or less. It further states that the portion of Stafford north of the Tualatin River cannot have a concept plan adopted or be requested for UGB expansion until 2028 at the earliest.
Hammer's organization is also one of two petitioners on an appeal filed with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) to remove the 10-year waiting period for planning in Stafford north of the Tualatin River. They requested a six-month stay on the appeal which ends in September.
As of now, the three cities are working together to defend their IGA, according to Lake Oswego Mayor Kent Studebaker.
"We're obviously going to defend ourselves on this thing," Studebaker told The Review. "I don't think we were out of line in what we agreed on. They disagree. We'll see what the court says."
According to Studebaker, the $170,000 grant from Metro that was earmarked for transportation planning wouldn't have been nearly enough funds to look at the full scope of traffic impacts in the Stafford area, and he supports the idea that his and the other two cities could come back and ask for more money from Metro's construction excise tax grants in the future to begin planning when the time comes.
As for now, Lake Oswego is prepared to dig its heels in.
"Our position is that we believe the three-party agreement is solid. We don't believe the arguments against this agreement are sound as far as land-use law is concerned," said City Attorney David Powell. "Our direction from our council is to defend this decision and intervene on Tualatin's behalf."
But the Lake Oswego City Council isn't 100 percent in agreement on what should take place as far as how soon planning efforts in Stafford should begin.
Councilor John LaMotte has long expressed concern over the 10-year waiting period and even testified against the agreement at a Tualatin City Council meeting back in January after his own body had approved the agreement 6-1.
Tualatin eventually approved the agreement 5-2, but LaMotte believes there needs to be a more concerted effort in planning for traffic, governance and infrastructure.
"As a professional city planner, I feel so strongly about doing the right thing down there in Stafford. I disagree with how the three-party agreement has an arbitrary moratorium in it," LaMotte said. "We should not be waiting and kicking the can down the road. We really should be involved in planning the growth of this incredibly beautiful green gateway to our city."
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