Land-use challenges could tie up land for months or years

by:  PAMPLIN  MEDIA GROUP: CHASE ALLGOOD - Highway 26 road signs and farm houses break up the open fields in the proposed north Hillsboro industrial area.Business groups have argued for years that the state needs more readily available large industrial lots for big employers. The Value of Jobs Coalition has released numerous studies documenting the current lack of these large lots, and the annual Oregon Business Plan adopted by state business leaders has repeatedly called for more of them.

But as a bill considered by the 2013 Legislature shows, creating more large industrial lots is not that easy. Senate Bill 845 is an attempt to assure one of the most recent large industrial parcels, the 330-acre tract known as the North Hillsboro Industrial Area, can be developed.

North Hillsboro is comprised of farmland and open spaces that could host large manufacturing plants. Its conversion to industrial land has been approved by Metro, the elected regional government, and the state Land Conservation and Development Commission, which oversees land use planning in Oregon. The state is thought to be recruiting a new high-tech company there in a secretive effort dubbed Project Azalea.

But the approvals are being challenged in the Oregon Court of Appeals by 1000 Friends of Oregon and others. Although the appeals court is expected to rule soon, the decisions can be appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court. And the court rulings could prevent the area from ever being developed.

SB 845 covers North Hillsboro. It authorizes the governor and director of the Department of Land Conservation and Development Commission to exempt certain land-use decisions regarding large-site industrial properties from legal appeals. This would be done by entering into contracts with employers who promise to create at least 500 new, full-time jobs on them. It was introduced by state Sen. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro), state Rep. Tobias Read (D-Beaverton) and state Sen. Lee Beyer (D-Salem).

Even if SB 845 passes, it is likely to be challenged in courts. Although it is supported by some business interests, SB 845 is opposed by environmental groups such as 1000 Friends of Oregon, among others.

Years of additional work

The complex legal hurdles are largely the result of a multistep land-use procedure approved by the 2007 Legislature. Metro had to bring the area into the urban growth boundary before it could be developed. But the 2007 Legislature required the Portland area to designate 50-year urban and rural reserves before that could happen.

Metro designated urban and rural reserves throughout the region in October 2011. Both areas were designated as urban reserves.

The LCDC approved the designations but did not issue its written order on the designations until August 2012. That was the first time they could be challenged in the appeals court. Nine challenges were filed late last year. One came from 1000 Friends of Oregon, which argued the designations in Washington County violated state land-use planning laws.

Metro approved a 1,985-acre expansion of the growth boundary in October 2011, before the dispute on the urban and rural reserves made it to the appeals court. The expansion included North Hillsboro.

The LCDC approved the expansions in June 2012. The written order was filed in December 2012, which was the first time they could be challenged in the appeals court. Three objections were filed that month. The urban growth boundary challenges are on hold until the appeals court rules on the urban and rural designations.

The appeals court could approve the urban and rural reserve designations or send them back to the LCDC for more work. If the appeals court approves the designations, the challengers could appeal that decision to the Oregon Supreme Court. If the appeals court sends the designations back for more work, Metro and the LCDC could appeal that decision to the Supreme Court.

The appeals court ruling on the urban growth boundary expansions also could be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Potential outcomes include months, if not years, of additional work justifying both the urban and rural reserve designations and the boundary expansions.

Regardless of the timing or results of the court ruling, Metro is still obligated by Oregon law to complete its next 20-year population and employment forecasts and urban growth boundary analysis by the end of 2014. The next boundary expansion decision will happen after that.

In the meantime, Hillsboro continues to finalize its plans for North Hillsboro in the hopes that it can be developed in the foreseeable future. Just this week, the City Council considered amending the city’s comprehensive land-use plan to allow development there. The council is expected to vote on further refinements later this year, after which North Hillsboro must be annexed into the city for work to begin.

Boundary, land-use challenges

Here is a guide to all the legal land-use challenges.

Urban and rural reserves:

Oral arguments on the urban and rural reserve designations were heard at the appeals court on Jan. 16. The court is expected to issue its decision in May or June. The 2007 law limits the court’s jurisdiction to only a few issues.

The nine objections were filed by:

• 1000 Friends of Oregon, which objected generally to all of the designations and specifically to North Hillsboro and an area in Helvetia north of the Sunset Highway being designated as urban reserves.

• Save Helvetia, which had objections similar to those of 1000 Friends, with particular concern about the Helvetia designation.

Carol Chesarek and Cherry Amabisca, who mostly objected to designation of Peterkort property west of the Bethany area as an urban reserve.

• The cities of West Linn and Tualatin objected to the inclusion of the Stafford area in Clackamas County as an urban reserve.

• The Maletis Brothers, who own Langdon Farms Golf Course in Clackamas County and objected to the inclusion of the French Prairie area, between Wilsonville and the Marion County line, as a rural reserve.

• Elizabeth Graser-Lindsey, a resident of the Beavercreek area, had concerns about her area being left undesignated rather than rural reserve.

• The Metropolitan Land Group had some overall concerns and challenges about an area being designated as rural reserve in western Multnomah County.

• Barker’s Five LLC, which had similar concerns about the Multnomah County area.

• Springville Investors and David Blumenkron, who also had concerns about the Multnomah County area.

Urban growth boundary expansions

These three parties filed objections to the urban growth boundary expansions:

• 1000 Friends of Oregon, which expressed concerns about the need for growth boundary expansion at all, and particularly about the North Hillsboro industrial land addition.

• Jim Standring: a developer who owns land north of the Sunset Highway near the Brookwood in Hillsboro interchange that he feels the Metro Council should have brought into the urban growth boundary.

• Elizabeth Graser-Lindsey, who often focuses on land-use issues pertaining to Oregon City and Beavercreek, where there were no urban growth boundary expansions.

Two motions to intervene, in support of Metro and LCDC, also were filed by the city of Hillsboro and South Hillsboro Partners, a developer with holdings in the South Hillsboro residential expansion area.

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