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City looks to mediation, Legislature in UGB case
Mediation appears ready to move forward in Woodburns long-running and much-disputed effort to expand its urban growth boundary (UGB).
Now that the Oregon Consensus Assessment is completed, the Department of Land Conservation and Development has proposed a mediation process between all parties just this week, City Administrator Scott Derickson said Thursday. The city views this as an important step forward in the potential resolution of this long-standing dispute.
City spokesman Jason Horton said that it is his understanding that all parties include the city, DLCD and 1000 Friends of Oregon, a nonprofit land-use advocacy group and the opponent of record in the case.
We feel good about the possibility of mediation and we think that it will likely resolve this long-standing dispute, Derickson said. We have always felt mediation is a better route to take than attempting a legislative solution.
However, many specifics about the process remain unclear, with no actual mediator, final agreement on process or mediation date having been established yet, according to Derickson.
All of those components and more were highlighted as points of contention between the parties in a pre-mediation assessment commissioned by DLCD and completed by the Oregon Consensus Bureau in November.
The report found that all potential parties were interested in mediating the case, but that there are substantial barriers to resolution, centering on the approximately 400 acres tabbed for industrial use and particularly, a 130-acre parcel identified as the Opus property.
Located north and west of Interstate 5 and bordering Butteville Road on the east, the land was described in a January 2011 release from 1000 Friends Craig Beebe as contain(ing) some of the states most valuable farmland.
An option on the Opus parcel is held by Specht Properties Inc., a Beaverton-based commercial real estate development and property management firm that has handled a number of large, multi-million-dollar industrial projects in the Portland metro area, according to its website.
According to Woodburn Mayor Kathy Figleys prepared remarks during her state of the city address at a chamber of commerce function last week, officials have received informal word that the UGB appeals would go away if the Opus property were removed from the proposal.
But, she said, the city is unwilling to do that for a number of reasons, mainly that the sites size, location and other characteristics make it very attractive for potential development.
It is valuable, it is desirable and it would have been developed years ago in 49 other states, Figley said. Now that the highway improvements are almost done, it is shovel ready. The other 300 acres in our proposal need several million dollars worth of investment to reach that point.
Even as they were taking the first steps toward a potential mediated resolution, city officials began laying the groundwork for a plan B of sorts: appealing to Oregon lawmakers for legislative relief.
The Woodburn City Council approved in November the expenditure of up to $20,000 to hire a professional consultant to lobby on its behalf in the Oregon Legislature.
That lobbyist was later revealed to be Erik Kancler, of the government relations firm Kancler Consulting, whose diverse background includes stints as an investigative journalist, scientist, researcher, policy adviser and executive director of Central Oregon Landwatch and the Network of Oregon Watershed Councils.
According to Figley, Kancler was also involved in the so-called grand bargain land-use bill in 2014 that applied legislative action to Washington Countys urban and rural reserves.
Woodburns own proposed remedy, House Bill 2649, was filed by Rep. Betty Komp (D-Woodburn) and referred to the House Committee on Rural Communities, Land Use and Water.
If approved, the four-sentence-long piece of proposed legislation would simply validate the Woodburn urban growth boundary according to the ordinance adopted by the City Council in October 2005.
Figley also discussed the possibility of mediation during her speech last week. She said city officials planned to participate and called HB 2649 a fall-back in the event that mediation is unsuccessful.
We remain committed to a mediated solution if we can get to the table in a reasonable time, she said. However, we recognize both that mediation sometimes fails, and that even if it succeeds, land use is so complicated that you need legislation to clean it up, as happened with Washington County.
The potential mediation and the proposed legislation are only the latest chapters in the decades-long attempt to add 979 acres to the citys UGB, a process that has included two trips through the states standard land-use planning process and two appeals to the Oregon Supreme Court most recently, last year.
As the years (the process began in 1997) and expenses (estimated at between $750,000 and $1 million, according to one official) have piled up, some city leaders have become increasingly vocal about their frustrations.
Figley and then-Councilor Pete McCallum (who retired in December) both published opinion columns in newspapers last year calling for an overhaul of the land-use process.
Figley went so far as to voice some of her concerns before the state Land Conservation and Development Commission during the public comment portion of one of its meetings last year, and she has not been shy about publicly referring to the states broken land-use system.