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Wilsonville City Council gives legal staff direction to file actions that contest airport master planning

PMG FILE PHOTO - The City of Wilsonville continues to argue that planning processes for the Aurora Airport have been improperly done.

The city of Wilsonville took its most resounding legal step to contest the validity of the Aurora Airport Master Plan during a meeting Monday, Nov. 4.

Wilsonville City Council voted 4-1 to provide legal staff the authority to file an appeal to the Land Use Board of Appeals and a circuit court action under the Administrative Procedures Act to contest the Oregon Aviation Board's decision to adopt the Findings of Compatibility and Compliance in support of the ODA's State Agency Coordination Program for the 2012 Aurora State Airport Master Plan during a meeting Oct. 31.

The board's decision effectively closed the book on Aurora Airport master planning. The APA allows entities to challenge state agency decisions whereas LUBA resolves land-use disputes. Councilor Ben West was the lone representative to vote against the city's motion.

The city previously had filed a motion to intervene in the Friends of French Prairie's LUBA appeal regarding a letter Oregon Department of Aviation Director Betty Stansbury sent to the farmland advocacy group purporting that the master plan had been formerly adopted in 2012 but Nov. 4 was the first time it gave clearance to take unilateral legal action.

Though Mayor Tim Knapp and councilors have voiced concerns about how expansion deriving from an extension of the airport runway could affect rural agriculture, traffic and Charbonneau residents concerned with plane-generated noise pollution, they said at the meeting that the action was about governmental process, not policy preferences.

Some of the questions the city and Friends of French Prairie have raised include whether the board ever approved the master plan in 2012, whether the ODA circumvented rules about public engagement, and whether it followed land-use planning procedures in the proper order.

"Rules are how we all get along together and function efficiently within our community, and I think in this case there is strong evidence that rules have been sidestepped. I guess I would say and that does not serve our community," Knapp said. "If the advocates of airport expansion believe it stands on its own merits, I think the process should be allowed to proceed and they should make their case within the process, not circumventing the process."

"I believe this remains both a procedural and a land-use issue that our position as city of Wilsonville needs to continue to be strong in making sure that both the rules and the laws that govern the land use are followed," Councilor Joann Linville said. "I don't believe they have been followed, even though at this point there appears to be a decision that the master plan is approved."

Linville is a resident of Charbonneau, a Wilsonville neighborhood historically opposed to any expansions at the airport due to its proximity to their area.

The city must file the LUBA appeal by Nov. 21 and the circuit court action by the end of December.

West, on the other hand, felt that the land-use process for airport planning had been appropriately followed, pointed out that the city does not have clear direction from Wilsonville residents on the matter, and that his fellow councilors' impetus for the objections are more about ideology than they sometimes claim.

He also worried about the city potentially having to pay opponents' legal fees if it loses the litigation dispute. When asked, Guile-Hinman did not comment on whether this would be the case.

"To say there hasn't been a public and robust process I don't think is true. I believe, at the same time, it's (the city's position on airport planning) about a bigger agenda, a strategy of obstruction and opposing development on the south side of the river," West said after the meeting.

West also said he would support the idea of the city allowing voters to weigh in on what the city's positions should be toward the airport.

"We should look for more of a mandate (from the public)," West said. "This is a big deal."


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