Vote comes a decade after it began under state law; dissatisfied landowners could file new lawsuit in Oregon Court of Appeals.

The Metro Council has ended a decade-long process of designating the lands open to development in Multnomah and Clackamas counties in the next 50 years.

The 7-0 vote by the council Thursday (June 15) still could be challenged in the Oregon Court of Appeals, like its original decision in 2011, after it is reviewed by the state Land Conservation and Development Commission.

The council vote follows up its April 13 declaration that 23,031 acres are sufficient for development regionwide through 2060.

State legislation back in 2007 set in motion a regionwide process of determining lands suitable for future development. Counties also could designate lands, known as rural reserves, off-limits to such development for 50 years.

Kathryn Harrington, a Metro councilor since 2007, said the law was intended to fix the flaws in previous processes and broaden public involvement.

"This action today allows us to finish the urban and rural reserve designations" in the two counties, she said. "I hope it gets us closer to getting this project done."

Metro Council President Tom Hughes was mayor of Hillsboro more than a decade ago, when he asked representatives of agriculture and industry what they sought most in terms of land use policy.

"The message that came through loud and clear, from both sides of the urban growth boundary, was that they wanted long-term certainty," said Hughes, who was elected Metro Council president in 2010.

"Who knew that 10 years later, we would be finally coming together to approve the final version of that plan? Quite frankly, I think there may still be some legal issues coming. But I think we are close enough now that we can see light at the end of the tunnel that is not a train."

Unfinished business

The council decision reaffirms both an urban-reserve designation for Stafford — 6,230 acres surrounded by Tualatin, Lake Oswego and West Linn — and a rural-reserve designation for about 2,000 acres of East Bethany in Multnomah County.

The Court of Appeals decided in 2014 that Metro and the counties had to submit more detailed justification for their decisions. The court also returned reserves designated in Washington County, but the Legislature stepped in after the court decision to draw those lines.

The council decision followed actions by commissioners in Clackamas County on May 23 and in Multnomah County on May 4.

Stafford "has been in contention for many, many years — decades — before my joining the council," said Councilor Carlotta Collette, whose district includes the area.

"I think this is a really momentous occasion to be able to resolve this in a way that gives everybody some comfort, lets people in Stafford sleep at night, and lets people in the cities know that when they want to grow, they have an opportunity."

The council still has to approve an agreement — already ratified by Clackamas County commissioners and city councils in Lake Oswego, Tualatin and West Linn — which sets the process for extension of roads and other services into Stafford.

That vote is scheduled for June 22.

A signing ceremony is scheduled tentatively for June 28.

The agreement resolved a looming impasse between the county board, which was under regional pressure to resolve the status of Stafford, and cities that argued it would be costly for them to extend utilities into much of the hilly terrain that is Stafford.

East Bethany dispute

The council acted despite protests from some landowners, who testified on June 8 they opposed their inclusion in a 2,000-acre rural reserve designated by Multnomah County. The smaller L-shaped area is in East Bethany, near Forest Park northwest of Portland.

Multnomah County commissioners voted on May 4 to reaffirm their original 2010 decision to designate the entire area off-limits to development for 50 years.

Christopher James, a Portland lawyer representing owners who collectively have 225 acres, said in a document filed with the council Wednesday (June 14):

"Metro cannot designate a Stafford property with natural landscape features as urban reserve, and then decline to designate an East Bethany property with natural landscape features and other similarities as urban reserve."

But Roger Alfred, a senior attorney for Metro, advised the council on June 8 that counties — not Metro — were responsible for taking the lead in designating rural reserves.

An East Bethany landowner was one of the 22 plaintiffs in the lawsuit that challenged the original decision by the Metro Council and the three counties to designate urban reserves.

Some Stafford residents also were dissatisfied with the decision by Clackamas County commissioners to reaffirm their area as an urban reserve — two commissioners who opposed going ahead with action lost re-election bids last year — but it is not clear whether the residents would join a new lawsuit to overturn it.

A lawsuit would have to await action by the state Land Conservation and Development Commission later this year. Legal challenges to state agency actions go to the Court of Appeals.

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Fixes errors in East Bethany descriptions.

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