Agreement would lay out how communities would coordinate future development in rural area

TIDINGS FILE PHOTO - A 2017 Intergovenmental Agreement (IGA) was only the first step in settling the debate over the future of rural Stafford. Next, the three adjacent cities must form an agreement on how they will work together if future development occurs.When five parties — Metro, Clackamas County and the cities of West Linn, Tualatin and Lake Oswego — toasted with sparkling apple juice last June to a new Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) detailing how to deal with the future of the rural Stafford area, there was little sense of finality even after more than half a decade of intense debates surrounding the issue.

Instead, the three cities saw negotiations for another IGA looming as the result of the key victory they'd earned in the preceding negotiations: the right to control development planning in the future, should Stafford be moved into the urban growth boundary (UGB). As the ink dried on the five-party IGA, the cities said they would soon begin work on a three-city IGA that would further clarify how they would work together during future development processes.

The preliminary stages of drawing up that second IGA began earlier this year, and West Linn Mayor Russ Axelrod said the goal is to adopt the IGA by the end of 2018.

"Nothing's really been decided in any way," Axelrod said. "There's been no deep discussions on the IGA at this point."

Stafford totals about 6,230 acres surrounded by West Linn, Lake Oswego and Tualatin, and only a small percentage of that acreage is considered developable due to its challenging topography. Debate over the future of the area heated up in 2010, when Metro designated Stafford as urban reserve land that could potentially be moved into the UGB — and subsequently developed — within the next 40 to 50 years.

The three cities and many residents said that any development would likely cause significant problems related to infrastructure and transportation, while some owners of larger properties continued to push for urbanization. The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the Metro urban reserve designation in 2014, and debates continued to escalate until 2017, when newly-elected Clackamas County Board of Commissioners Chair Jim Bernard stated that solving the impasse was a top priority.

The eventual five-party IGA agreed to in 2017 was seen as a compromise — Stafford would continue to be labeled as urban reserve land, but any future development planning would be controlled by one or more of the three cities adjacent to the land. The IGA also stated that "urbanization and urban development will be planned to coincide with transportation and infrastructure improvement necessary to serve such development."

Now, the three cities have to get into the specifics of how they would handle development planning in the future. Axelrod volunteered to put together the first draft of an IGA, and that draft is being reviewed by the two other cities and Axelrod's fellow city councilors.

Axelrod's draft makes specific mention of the 2015 Community Vision Plan that was approved by residents of the Stafford area (also known as the Stafford Hamlet) which states that any development should be limited to the Borland Road/I-205 corridor area. The draft IGA also makes clear that "each city will be responsible for its development in any particular portion of the Stafford area, unless otherwise arranged … the cities will work together in good faith in the future when determining any proposed urban growth boundary (UGB) expansion, future city boundary adjustments or any partitioning of portions of the Stafford Area by annexation."

Further, the draft IGA states that each city must prepare a concept plan that would be approved by the other two cities before any UGB expansion could occur. Such a concept plan would identify "natural physiographic features such as topography, environmentally sensitive areas, creeks/rivers and drainage basin boundaries, existing roads, farms and developments" while also providing a feasibility study and demonstrating that possible developments would not burden the city's existing residents or the other cities.

Axelrod said Lake Oswego and Tualatin expressed some concern about the idea of their neighbors essentially having veto power over their future plans. Thus, even before evaluating Axelrod's draft, the cities will look to adopt several "guiding principles" for the construction of the IGA.

The proposed guiding principles, according to a memo from Community Development Director John Williams to the West Linn City Council, include "keep the agreement as simple and specific as possible"; "do not include anything in the agreement that is not essential; "respect home rule authority"; and "focus on the aspects of future urbanization that will have a direct effect of residents of the other cities."

"So I think what we're going to do is have another meeting, continue to talk about that," Axelrod said.

He added that before an IGA can be approved, the cities will also have to discuss future city boundaries in the event that Stafford is one day moved inside the UGB.

"We need a rough idea of where our jurisdictions will be in the future," he said. "That's something we'll look at broadly and bring to the community."

The West Linn City Council is scheduled to discuss the matter next at its March 5 work session.

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