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Future of Woodburn UGB expansion uncertain in the wake of Oregon Supreme Court ruling

The city of Woodburn received a quicker-than-expected decision in its request to have the Oregon Supreme Court intervene in its long-running urban growth boundary (UGB) expansion case, but it was not the decision city officials were hoping for.

By a vote of 4-2, with one absent, the justices denied the city’s petition for judicial review. Woodburn needed at least three “yes” votes for the case to be heard, so they fell one shy.

Describing the issue as one “of such critical importance for the Willamette Valley,” City Council President Pete McCallum said in a press release that he was disappointed by the high court’s ruling.

“The community of Woodburn, like many other communities, continues to work under a broken land-use system in Oregon that desperately needs to be fixed,” he said. “Our land-use system is out of balance. We have already lost millions of dollars in investment opportunities and too many living-wage jobs to count.”

The city’s petition had stemmed from a Jan. 2 decision by the Oregon Court of Appeals, in which the judges reversed the Land Conservation and Development Commission’s approval of the city’s UGB proposal, remanding it back to the LCDC. The city’s plans were to amend its UGB to include 409 gross acres — or 362 net buildable acres — for industrial use, and the expansion was cleared by both the Marion County Commission and the LCDC.

However, on appeal by the land-use activist group 1000 Friends of Oregon, the appellate court ruled “that the LCDC did not adequately explain the reasons that led it to conclude the city’s UGB amendment complied with applicable law.”

City officials had hoped to persuade the Supreme Court to step in and overrule the Court of Appeals, and its petition had offered three points at which it believed the appellate court had erred in its judgment.

City Attorney Bob Shields said the situation is now a policy decision based on the will of the council.

“The legal part of it, for now, is pretty much done,” he said.

He noted that the Supreme Court hears only about 10 percent of the cases submitted to it on a discretionary basis. When he announced the filing of the petition in April, he had expected the decision to take about three to four months.

He said it’s possible that the Supreme Court’s decision could return the matter to the state land commission.

“One of the things that’s so vexing about this case is that the Court of Appeals didn’t really get to the merits; they just said LCDC’s order wasn’t sufficient for review, which sort of leaves us floating out there,” he said. “But they clearly said the state’s order wasn’t sufficient, that LDCD didn’t explain it. So, from one perspective, they should do it again. Whether they will or not, politically, that’s a whole other thing.”

The matter will most likely be taken up for the council’s consideration at its June 9 session.

“I can’t speak for any of my colleagues, but I will say, basically, I want to keep fighting,” McCallum said.

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