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Agreement reached in regional land-use dispute

by: COURTESY OF SAVE HELVETIA - Farmland in the rural Helvetia area of Washington County figured into the land use dispute.A breakthrough in the so-called grand land-use bargain was reached Sunday after days of intense negotiations involving state and local officials, conservationists and farmers.

The agreement is intended to resolve the uncertainty produced by the recent Oregon Court of Appeals ruling that rejected a 50-year land-use plan for the Portland area. It only applies to Washington County and must be passed by the 2014 Legislature to be final.

"This is good compromise for agriculture, residential and industrial interests in the county, and brings certainty future urban and rural land decisions," says Washington County Chair Andy Duyck.

The agreement is intended to ratify portions of previously approved urban and rural reserves, and subsequent urban growth boundary expansion based on them. Details of the settlement are expected to released in Salem early in the week. The session is scheduled to adjourn by March 5.

According to Duyck and others, the negotiations involved many parties in the dispute, including legislators and representatives of Metro, all three counties, and such land use watchdogs as 1000 Friends of Oregon and Save Helvetia, a rural area in Washington County. Also present was Richard Whitman, Gov. John Kitzhaber's natural resources policy director.

A bill in the House Rules Committee will be used as the vehicle for the compromise. Public hearings will be held on it.

The court ruling concerned urban and rural reserves approved by Metro and the state Land Consersation and Development Commission in 2011.

Metro asked the Legislature for approval to designate the reserves in 2007. The idea was to add certainly to the land-use planning process by identifying where growth could and could not occur for the next 50 years. The Legislature agreed and Metro spent the next three years working with Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas counties to identify the reserves. The final plan was adopted in 2011 and quickly challenged in the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Later that year, Metro also approved a series of urban growth boundary decisions. They were all within the the approved urban reserves. The majority — approximately 2,000 acres — were in Washington County. They included two areas being planned for residential development, South Cooper Mountain in Beaverton and South Hillsboro, which Hillsboro plans to annex when the planning is complete. The boundary was also expanded to include a new industrial area called North Hillsboro.

The boundary expansions were also challenged in the appeals court. They were essentially invalidated when the court rejected the urban and rural reserves plan in a Feb. 20 ruling, in spite of the work being done by Beaverton and Hillsboro.

Despite the focus on Washington County, the court ruled that mistakes were made in the other counties, too. Multnomah County did not justify designating much of its undeveloped land between Portland and Beaverton as rural reserves. It include a 62-acre parcel adjacent to the North Bethany residential area that the owners want to divide among their family. And the court found Clackamas County did not explain why the Stafford area should be designated an urban reserve when it is already facing growing congestion problems.

Legislators were already talking about intervening in the controversy before the court issued its ruling. State Rep. John Davis (R-Wilsonville) introduced a bill in this month's legislative session to ratify the boundary expansions. State Rep. Ben Unger (D-Hilllsboro) was talking about ratifying some of them but not others.

The idea was strongly opposed by Metro and the Washington County commission. But Clem says all that changed when the appeals court remanded the reserves to Metro and invalidated the regional agency's decision. Metro asked the Legislature for approval to designate urban and rural reserves in 2007.



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