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Area off development map for now, but may be tapped later



Photo Credit: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - City planners, in an about-face, now recommend West Hayden Island not be designated for future industrial development during the next 20 years.Portland planners, bowing to a public outcry, yanked West Hayden Island from a proposed list of industrial lands earmarked for development during the next 20 years.

But the move, which doesn’t rule out future marine trade terminals on the island, didn’t please anyone.

Port of Portland officials, who own or control about 800 acres of forest, meadow and sandy beaches on West Hayden Island, say the city is low-balling the need for trade terminals and industrial jobs along the Columbia River. Environmentalists and Hayden Island residents, while praising the removal of West Hayden Island from the industrial lands inventory, say that doesn’t go far enough. They want the site permanently protected as open space.

City planners’ new proposal for providing lands for future industrial businesses and jobs, and the role West Hayden Island may or may not play, now goes before the Planning and Sustainability Commission for a Tuesday, Feb. 10, work session.

It’s unclear if the city’s new proposal will pass muster with state regulators. The industrial land inventory is a component of Portland’s updated comprehensive land use or “comp” plan, which will guide city growth from 2015 to 2035. That plan must be approved by the state Land Conservation and Development Commission.

The Port of Portland, which considers West Hayden Island an ideal site for more Columbia River shipping terminals, acquired the property via condemnation from Portland General Electric in the mid-1990s. Ever since, the port’s proposals to develop the island have been hotly opposed by environmentalists, led by the Audubon Society of Portland, as well as neighbors living on the eastern half of the island. A year ago, the port withdrew its latest bid to have the land annexed to the city, saying the environmental mitigation measures proscribed by the Planning and Sustainability Commission would make it too expensive to develop.

But now the city is in a pinch. As part of the comp plan update, it’s obliged to show state land-use regulators it’s accommodating land for new jobs over the next two decades, including industrial acreage and harbor-related sites. Last September, city planners included 300 acres on West Hayden Island, enabling the city to meet its projected 20-year land supply for harbor and industrial jobs.

But neighbors and environmentalists bashed city planners, calling it a back-door move to get the port terminals developed without the environmental conditions approved earlier.

In response, city planners recently backed down.

“In response to public testimony, our current proposal is to designate West Hayden Island rural farm/forest, which is sort of a continuation of its current designation as a holding zone,” says Tom Armstrong, supervising planner for the city.

The city comp plan will include language about possibly using 300 acres for industry in the future, and saving the remaining 500 acres for open space, along with some of the Planning and Sustainability Commission’s environmental protections.

“The door is open for the port to come back and say ‘We’re ready to annex,’” Armstrong says.

To remove the island land from the inventory, though, the city is simply lowering its estimate for the expected demand for trade-related sites in the Portland Harbor during the next two decades. Now the city says it needs only 150 acres, its low-end forecast, instead of the 390 acres it was using before, which was its mid-range forecast.

“They changed their forecast assumptions,” says Susie Lahsene, the Port of Portland’s senior manager for transportation and land-use policy. “That’s surprising to me, given the amount of investment that’s going on along the Columbia River and the harbor in general.”

Since the federally funded Columbia River channel deepening was completed about four years ago, there’s been significant expansions of trade terminals in Portland, Vancouver, and other communities along the river. By the port’s count, there’s been $866 million in new marine facility improvements and related infrastructure. Of that, $366 million was in the city of Portland, including Port of Portland and private property.

The port estimates there’s another $2.8 billion in proposed projects, including a $500 million propane export terminal proposed by Pembina Pipeline Corp. at the Port’s Terminal 6.

Jeff Geisler, chairman of Hi-Noon, the neighborhood association for Hayden Island, called the city’s move “kind of a shell game.” The comp plan still will include language that could facilitate industrial development on West Hayden Island. “We want that removed as well,” Geisler says.

“They’ve kind of done a bait and switch on us,” says Bob Sallinger, Audubon Society of Portland conservation director. “They took Hayden Island off the map, which is a step in the right direction, but they left the policy intact,” Sallinger says. “We were told very explicitly it was out of the plan.”

It’s unclear what the city’s action might mean for the potential port development.

The port can come to the city any time and seek a comp plan amendment as well as a zoning amendment, Armstrong says.

He points out that the city still is providing for a potential 1,800 acres of developable industrial lands for the next 20 years, or about 100 acres more than the forecasted demand. Some of that land would be provided at golf courses the city expects might come on the market in the next 20 years, because fewer people are playing golf these days. Other land would come from cleanups at contaminated “brownfield” sites.

While business groups and the port want more land available for industry, Armstrong says the city is supplying plenty. “We’re still accommodating 32,000 jobs.”

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