Cities: Metro could arbitrate Basalt Creek dispute
A solution could be in sight to a months-long dispute that has ground the joint planning process for Basalt Creek to a halt.
Wilsonville officials said at a meeting last week, and Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden confirmed Monday, Sept. 11, that the two cities involved in the process could turn to the regional government Metro to resolve a protracted disagreement over what uses to allow on a rugged piece of land expected to be annexed to Tualatin's southern edge.
The dispute revolves around about 42 developable acres on the north side of Basalt Creek Parkway, east of Grahams Ferry Road — on the Tualatin side of the tentative boundary — officially called the "central subarea."
Officials from Tualatin and Wilsonville, which seek to annex the unincorporated area to make way for development, had reached hard-won agreements on where the city line would fall, how many daily commuter trips each side would be permitted to generate with development and what the future zoning for most of the area would be.
But in February, responding to an outpouring of concerns expressed by neighbors and property-owners, the Tualatin City Council decided it wanted to designate the central subarea as residential land instead of industrial land.
The mayor said he was convinced the land was unsuitable for industrial development due to its rugged topography and uneven bedrock. Other councilors expressed interest in affordable housing there or sympathized with residents of the Victoria Gardens neighborhood, just north of the so-called central subarea, anxious at the thought of manufacturing facilities being built blocks away from their homes.
Members of the Wilsonville City Council were "dismayed," as Mayor Tim Knapp put it, accusing Tualatin of reneging on its commitments and threatening to walk away from the boundary agreement reached in late 2015, which splits the Basalt Creek area along Basalt Creek Parkway — a road extending east from Tonquin Road, only a short segment of which has yet been built. Wilsonville officials dismissed concerns about the viability of developing the land and said residential construction there could jeopardize Basalt Creek as a future employment area, as it had been designated by Metro early in the planning process.
To this point, no compromise solution has been apparent. Tualatin City Manager Sherilyn Lombos said last month she saw no obvious way the two city councils could come to a mutually agreeable arrangement.
That's where Metro could come in.
"It's not like I'm madder than hell and … we need a referee," Ogden said. "It's like, you know, we're good friends and we just haven't been able to come to the same comprehension of this ink blot, so many it's time to bring in somebody else and let the chips fall where they fall."
Wilsonville City Manager Bryan Cosgrove said Thursday, Sept. 7, that Wilsonville would host a meeting with Tualatin and Washington County officials this week to figure out the next step in the process.
"We're hosting that here with, I think, the goal of moving to have Metro make the final decision," Cosgrove said. "There are a lot of undercurrents with that from everybody's point of view, but that's kind of where we're heading right now."
Cosgrove said it was possible the county could put forward a better alternative, but he told the City Council that "essentially what we're moving toward is having a third party make the decision, because we're essentially at loggerheads with how to proceed on that one."
Although Cosgrove said Metro has agreed to arbitrate the dispute, Metro's communications director, Jim Middaugh, said in response to a request for comment that Metro has "received no specific request for assistance."
"That said, all of greater Portland will benefit when we complete planning and begin the work of building the new jobs and opportunities we all want," Middaugh added in an email. "The cities and Metro have invested significant time and money to ensure growth in the area contributes to a stronger community. We are hopeful the cities will resolve their differences so progress can continue."
If Metro or another third party is the arbiter, Ogden said, the parties to the planning process will have to agree in advance that they will abide by the decision that is made.
"If someone else has the auspices to override me and make a final decision, I may not like it — but at least it wasn't one that we effectuated, right?" Ogden said. "I don't mean to pass the buck or say, 'Oh, if it's a bad idea, we can blame Metro.' I don't mean it that way at all. It's that if we're not prepared to go manufacturing and they're not prepared to go residential, then someone else has to make that decision, and we have to agree to live with it."
Tualatin, Wilsonville, Washington County and Metro are all parties to an intergovernmental agreement that sets out how Basalt Creek will be planned out, annexed and prepared for development. That agreement contains no means for dispute resolution, Lombos and Ogden noted. However, Ogden said, if all parties agree to arbitration, he sees no reason it could not be used to clear the logjam.
The Basalt Creek area covers some 847 acres altogether. Tualatin has opted to divide its portion of the planning area roughly between industrial and residential land, while Wilsonville's side is slated entirely for industrial development in various forms.