'Very good collaboration' between parties in drafting findings for framework agreement

A joint hearing has been set for next month between the city and Marion County to consider the remand and re-adoption of the Woodburn urban growth boundary expansion.

The meeting between the City Council and county commission has been set for Dec. 14 at Woodburn City Hall.

The hearing marks what city officials hope will be a major step forward in the nearly two-decades-long effort to amend Woodburn’s UGB.

The city’s proposal for expansion was first approved by council in 2005, ultimately gaining the OK of both the county and state Land Conservation and Development Commission, as well.

However, the subsequent 10 years have been largely characterized by contention, appeals from area residents and the land-use advocacy group 1000 Friends of Oregon, and disappointment — for the city, anyway.

On two separate occasions, the most recent in 2014, the proposal stalled in the court system after being appealed by opponents repeatedly.

A turning point came during closed-door mediation this spring between the city and the primary opponents in the case. A framework agreement for a smaller and less ambitious UGB expansion emerged from that, and was quickly approved in principle by the City Council and commissioners.

The past several months have been spent drafting new findings of fact to support and justify the new agreement and its various concessions and compromises. It is these new findings that will be the primary subject of the Dec. 14 hearing.

Last week, Mayor Kathy Figley said she expects the hearing to be fairly straightforward and controversy-free, considering that the commission, along with county staff, and 1000 Friends have been deeply involved with the drafting of the new findings.

That’s one of the reasons the process took as long as it did, she said.

“I’d say there’s been very good collaboration involving our staff, the county, the (Department of Land Conservation and Development) and 1000 Friends,” Figley said. “It took a while, but that’s not unexpected when you’re dealing with a complex subject and working with data that is 10 years old.”

Still, she pointed out that the city is only slightly behind the very tentative timeline that was drafted at the beginning of the process in April.

“Really, I think the amazing thing is not that we’re one month behind,” she said. “The amazing thing is that we’ve been able to get it done at all.”

City officials, like Figley and former Council President Pete McCallum, have been openly critical about the state’s land-use process, which has delayed and even derailed not just Woodburn’s UGB proposal, but those of McMinnville, Newberg and others.

Woodburn has been unique among them in managing to come to a mediated agreement with opponents and move forward, but that doesn’t mean Figley has changed her mind about improvements that need to be made to the state’s system.

She spoke positively of the mediation, saying it produced some “mutual respect” among the parties that had previously been at odds with one another, but argued that getting to that point needs to be made easier — not something that comes as a last resort like it did with Woodburn.

“Something needs to happen that makes that more possible, and even encouraged,” Figley said. “It shouldn’t have to happen after you’ve been fighting each other for 10 years.”

Perhaps the most hotly contested piece of the UGB proposal, prior to mediation, was the so-called “Opus property,” a 130-acre parcel designated for industrial use and held by Specht Properties Inc., a major real estate development and property management firm based in Beaverton.

Located adjacent to the Woodburn Winco Foods Distribution Center and just north of Interstate 5, the Opus property was included in the framework agreement as part of the city’s industrial UGB expansion.

Figley said last week that attorneys and representatives of Specht have been following the progress of the UGB amendment since the agreement was approved earlier this year.

A posting on the developer’s website said it entered into an agreement to purchase the property in 2013 and anticipates it “will accommodate up to 2 million square feet of industrial space.”

Per the agreement, 230 acres of industrial land were excluded from the proposal (to be designated urban reserves), and 135 acres of residential land were removed from the UGB expansion outright.

The lion’s share of the residential land, located in four parcels north of the city limits, belong to longtime area residents Bob and Jean Fessler, founders of Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas, and their family.

Son Tom Fessler, manager of the nursery, appeared before the council in May in opposition of the proposal.

“It’s not equitable; it doesn’t line up with the facts, the law or the evidence,” he said.

He also criticized that his family had not been involved in the mediation process prior to having their property excluded.

Last week, Figley reiterated comments she had made in April in regard to the Fesslers.

“I don’t like being put in the position of having to say, ‘Here’s a winner; here’s a loser,’” she said.

However, she said the fact remains that Woodburn’s supply of available residential land is running low, and new land-use rules that take effect next year are supposed to streamline the UGB process.

“With the new process, I hope that will be a benefit to them, getting their property into the UGB sooner rather than later,” she said.

Once the city and county approve the remanded UGB proposal, it will go before the state DLCD for a final order.

Tyler Francke covers all things Woodburn. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-765-1195.