Stafford residents begin long-range planning

by: VERN UYETAKE - Stafford Hamlet Chairman Mike Miller is considered a small-property owner in the unincorporated area in Clackamas County, but he helps manage much larger properties and offers tractor work in the area, long looked at for urban development  between Lake Oswego, Tualatin and West Linn.After more than a decade of friction over potential urbanization, landowners in Stafford have united to push for planning the area’s future development.

“We want to be ready for this,” said Mike Miller, chairman of the Stafford Hamlet board. “We’re trying to be proactive in letting the county and cities and Metro know what our residents really want to see in terms of long-range development.”

The Stafford Hamlet will hold the first in a series of planning meetings from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Athey Creek Middle School, 2900 SW Borland Road in West Linn. Residents hope to have their vision for the area mapped out by the end of the year.

Metro, the regional government, has designated Stafford and the Borland Road area as an urban reserve. That means the 4,000 acres of rolling hills and woodlands between Lake Oswego, Tualatin and West Linn will likely one day come into the region’s urban growth boundary, a line limiting sprawl into forests and farmland.

But while hamlet residents overwhelmingly approved a unified vision for the area in 2008, they didn’t necessarily agree on how to go about achieving it. Until now.

Spurred to action by some recent land-use proposals, groups previously at odds with one another are now working together, Miller said. They want the entire community planned at the same time, even if that means moving ahead against the wishes of surrounding cities, which have taken positions against any urban development in their backyards.

“We decided it was in everybody’s interest if we could get the place planned and developed as a unit — granted these are long-range plans, 10 to 30 years out,” Miller said.

Of particular concern to residents are S&H Logging’s plans for a composting facility and surface mining operation near the middle school on Borland Road, along with a proposal by the city of Lake Oswego to expand the urban growth boundary so it can build a new tennis center on the city’s fringe, at Stafford and Rosemont roads.

“We found ourselves spending a lot of time fighting efforts being made on the edges,” Miller said. “None of these plans took into account what was really necessary for the planning of the entire hamlet. Especially when it comes to infrastructure and traffic issues, it can’t really be done piecemeal.”

The Borland Neighborhood Association, Stafford Landowners Association, Clackamas County Business Alliance and Stafford Hamlet all reached the same conclusion, he said.

The newfound agreement was a long time coming. Conflicting views of how the Stafford area should grow go back years, typically pitting conservationists and owners of smaller parcels against developers and owners of large tracts of land. The longstanding divisions are even reflected in the makeup of the Stafford Hamlet’s board, which includes three owners of large properties, three owners of smaller amounts of land and four members elected at-large.

It remains unclear whether a nearby city would provide governance and public services after annexing all or part of the hamlet, or whether Stafford could form a new government entity on its own.

“But we’d like our vision for the area to remain the same,” Miller said. “We’d just like to have a say in how the long-range development occurs.”

The hamlet’s vision calls for focusing any dense development near freeway interchanges, and “our desire would be to maintain as large a lot size as financially feasible,” Miller said. “The cities like to have us as their greenway ... with green space and tree canopy. If we develop and have as large of lot sizes as possible on the high end (the northern section), a lot of the pastoral nature will be retained.”

While Metro didn’t include Stafford in its most recent expansion of the urban growth boundary, the area is among candidates to accommodate population and employment-related growth in the coming decades. Meanwhile, Tualatin and West Linn are fighting the urban reserve status in court, and Lake Oswego is considering joining them in protesting Metro’s population and employment forecasts for the Stafford VERN UYETAKE - Stafford Hamlet Chairman Mike Miller says Stafford residents and neighborhood groups have come together to plan the entire area rather than letting development happen by a piecemeal approach.

Lake Oswego City Council members next week will consider sending a joint letter to Metro asking the agency to eliminate allocations of new households in the Stafford area when projecting future population growth. The draft letter says that forecasting any growth in Stafford is unrealistic because of opposition in the surrounding cities, urban infrastructure such as sewer service and transportation facilities will be impossible to provide at a reasonable cost and potential traffic impacts on the bordering cities and Interstate 205 are unacceptable.

Even so, Stafford residents feel it’s important to forge ahead in their planning efforts. The West Linn City Council has already reviewed the letter and agreed to sign it.

“We understand they don’t want to come to the table right now,” said Molly Ellis, a hamlet board member, of the adjacent cities. “But we feel if we don’t quickly look at what is here to be cherished or shared with later generations, or the communities beyond, we will no longer have it.”

Ellis, who is heading up the hamlet’s planning committee, has been on the board “since the beginning.” As a result, she’s seen a lot of turmoil over the years.

“We began at a time when neighbors were suing neighbors and there was a terrible feeling, a lot of fear, that we would all be developed 12 units to the acre all the way across the hamlet,” she said. “Most of the people who have lived here have lived here 40 years; they want to stay and love it the way it is. It was alarming at the time.”

However, Ellis said, “That bad feeling has sort of dissipated as we’ve gotten to know each other and understand the needs of one another. I think we really are on the cusp of compromise now.”

This weekend’s meeting will allow residents “to be more specific about what we hope to see happen in the future in the hamlet,” she said. Tables will be set up for each of the 10 neighborhoods in Stafford. “We’ve had a lot of planning forums that the county helped with. We’ve talked about conservation, and infrastructure, and the realities of the land-use laws here in Oregon. And now we are going to try to put our neighborhoods together.”

It isn’t just about residents finding a compromise, she added. Stafford is home to painted turtles, red frogs and a variety of other wildlife — Ellis has three types of owls on her property — along with multiple historic sites.

“We want to offer recommendations to the larger jurisdictions; they really have the power,” she said. “We know if we’re going to conserve anything, the time is now.”

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