State law fixes appeal court ruling urban reserves as unlawful

Metro Council President Tom Hughes called the passage of House Bill 4078 “the best possible solution” so that future urban growth boundary decisions could be fast-tracked in the courts, rather than engaging in a protracted debate over where to designate urban and rural reserves in Washington County.SMITH

But the future of Clackamas County’s interest in Metro’s designation of the Stafford Basin as urban reserves remained in limbo. Officials with the county, Metro and the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development have promised to work together to address legal issues with the designation.

Metro’s urban reserves lie outside of current urban growth boundaries, but are considered suitable for development in the next 40 to 50 years. The nearly 4,000-acre Stafford area has about 1,000 acres that are considered developable, but West Linn and Tualatin have long said they do not wish to allow development in the buffer of rolling hills and woodlands between the two cities, citing concerns with infrastructure as well as transportation.

Clackamas County Government Affairs Director Gary Schmidt wrote that the county was neutral on the bill just as Commissioner Tootie Smith testified in opposition, stating that she was representing the will of Clackamas County.

“It seems Clackamas County is plowed over yet again,” Smith said at the Feb. 27 hearing. “It puts Clackamas County in no other position but to strongly oppose.”

Commissioner Paul Savas said in spite of the mixed signals that were sent, he was hopeful that they could engage in a conversation that would help Clackamas County’s economic development.

“I was surprised to hear Commissioner Smith make those statements that morning on the heels of the work session that we had the day before,” Savas said. “But it is a shame that the county that needs the most employment lands is getting the least amount of consideration.”

House Majority Leader Val Hoyle (D-West Eugene/Junction City) was confused to get the emails from Schmidt saying that Clackamas County was neutral on the bill after the county commission’s “impasse” just before Smith’s testimony.

“She has the right in public process as a private citizen to speak on any bill,” Hoyle said. “Someone who understands the legislative process as a past legislator should understand that you can’t say that she represented the will of the commission.”

Smith explained that she was not representing the will of the commission, but rather the will of the majority of Clackamas County voters who elected her in 2012. When she had been asked to make up her mind in a short time, she decided that the process was a “sham” because Clackamas County would remain “under the thumb of Metro.”

“I don’t think that any legislator understands land use in Oregon,” Smith said. “Basically, they’ve patted us on the head and told us to go away, and if you don’t have something codified into law, you can’t expect anything to happen just because they’ve promised it to you. Clackamas County wasn’t included as part of the grand bargain, and shame on the state Legislature for voting on this. It’s not a grand bargain if Clackamas County isn’t included.”

Hoyle argued that the short session was able to achieve an incredible bipartisan political feat, despite the confusion caused by Smith and Clackamas County. Assuming Gov. John Kitzhaber signs the bill, land conservationists would get back significant portions of Washington County’s urban reserve designations, while western Washington County would see an immediate expansion of Metro’s urban growth boundary near cities. When the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled Feb. 20 that Washington County’s designation of rural reserves earlier this decade was handled illegally, local leaders had to lend their support to the state’s intervention.

“Especially for Washington County, their entire map was thrown out, so we had to act quickly,” Hoyle said.

Savas spoke to a middle ground while agreeing with Smith that Clackamas County had missed an opportunity.

“It is a delicate balance with how we grow Clackamas County while also protecting sensitive farmland,” Savas said. “It speaks to the values of our state and what makes our state great — a respect for both natural beauty and economic opportunity.”

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