As the West Linn City Council discussed a three-city intergovernmental agreement (IGA) regarding future development in the rural Stafford area at a work session Oct. 29, the state's completion of an Interstate 205 widening project was referenced as a possible benchmark for when urbanization might begin.
The comparison was fitting: both efforts are seen as inevitable, yet carry murky timelines due to funding issues, logistical concerns and bureaucratic barriers. While the I-205 project is widely viewed as a necessity, however, the three cities surrounding Stafford — West Linn, Lake Oswego and Tualatin — clearly agree on one thing: the beloved rural area shouldn't be urbanized.
"None of the cities right now are interested in the development of Stafford," West Linn Mayor Russ Axelrod said. "Our vision for Stafford as principally a rural entity remains, and that hasn't changed at all."
Still, the three cities have to plan for future development as part of a compromise outlined in a separate five-party IGA that they signed with Metro and Clackamas County in 2017. That IGA allowed Stafford to remain under the designation of urban reserve land — which can be incorporated into the urban growth boundary (UGB) within the next 50 years — while handing control of development planning to the cities. As part of that initial agreement, the three cities agreed to compose a second IGA outlining how they would work together during future development processes.
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.
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; about a year later, Stafford residents approved a Community Vision Plan that called for the area around Borland Road to be developed as urban reserve, with the rest of Stafford in the area north of the Tualatin River falling under the "undesignated" category (and thus not open for dense development).
Debates continued until 2017, when newly-elected Clackamas County Board of Commissioners Chair Jim Bernard stated that solving the impasse was a top priority and the involved parties eventually signed the first IGA. The preliminary stages of drawing up the second IGA began earlier this year, with the goal being to adopt an agreement by the end of 2018.
At the Oct. 29 work session, attorney Jeff Condit — who has represented West Linn throughout the Stafford saga — outlined the "key elements" in the current draft of the IGA, which has already been reviewed by the Lake Oswego and Tualatin City Councils. Those elements included: the establishment of concept planning boundaries defining which areas are planned by the three cities, a proposed 10-year moratorium on concept planning for the area north of the Tualatin River, the aforementioned I-205 provision and possible exceptions allowing parks, open spaces or public facilities in Stafford (such as Luscher Farm) to be annexed into a city without a concept plan for the entire surrounding area.
On the establishment of planning boundaries, most West Linn councilors opposed such an action as part of the IGA.
"I filled a wheelbarrow full of maps when I was involved in the Metro process back in 2009 and 2010," City Councilor Teri Cummings said. "I had so many documents, maps and so forth. … As far as what all of that is worth? Nothing, really. That's why I don't really want to start wasting our time making a bunch of maps and filling another wheelbarrow when what we do know (is) that the transportation infrastructure is at a failing level — it does not meet policy."
Condit said boundaries will have to be set once the cities actually begin concept planning — whenever that may be.
"So really the question is, do you set a preliminary boundary in the three-party IGA at a 35,000-foot level … and then refine it in the concept planning?" Condit said.
City Councilor Bob Martin felt that might be prudent.
"In terms of preparing for a concept plan, I don't really see how you can do that until you have some idea of the boundaries," he said.
Meanwhile, the council felt that the proposed 10-year planning moratorium and the I-205 provision might best be combined to state that concept plans could not be adopted until either 2028 or the completion of I-205 improvements — whichever comes first.
Axelrod, for his part, felt that transportation needs extended well beyond I-205.
"We not only have the 205 matter, which is regional connectivity … but Stafford (Road), Rosemont (Road) and McVey (Avenue in Lake Oswego) are very limiting," he said, adding that the Stafford Hamlet Community Vision Plan was similar to a concept plan.
"Why don't we just sit on that right now?" Axelrod said. "Because we're working on the waterfront, and other cities are working on other areas. There's so many factors to consider and the focus here on 205 is too simplistic."
Martin was concerned about a moratorium curbing necessary dialogue between the cities, but staff said that wouldn't be the case.
"My understanding is that the general idea is to make sure the language doesn't prevent the cities from working together and talking," Community Development Director John Williams said.
Several Stafford residents testified at the work session, each stressing their belief that the area's rural character should be preserved. And Dave Adams, a longtime Stafford resident, was pleased with the idea of a moratorium.
"The 10-year thing is essential," he said. "Let's give it the time the project deserves."
Moving forward representatives from the three cities are expected to discuss the IGA again Nov. 5, then work to complete a new draft of the agreement.
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