Lake Oswego's City Council last week conducted its first study session in at least two years on the urban reserve status of the Stafford area, a 4,000-acre buffer of rolling hills and woodlands between Lake Oswego, West Linn and Tualatin that has long been caught in a fight between would-be developers and residents who want to keep it rural.
"The concerns we have, of course, haven't changed," Lake Oswego Mayor Kent Studebaker told The Review this week. "Transportation is one of the big ones, density is another. Even if they're talking eight units per acre, that's still a lot of people. And of course, who's going to provide the urban services for them?"
Officials from all three cities argue that they are unwilling to bear the high cost of extending streets and other utility lines into Stafford, much of which is hilly terrain.
"We support the preservation of the current rural character of the Stafford area," West Linn Mayor Russ Axelrod said at a public hearing held by Metro earlier this month, "and the efforts of the Stafford Hamlet to find a compromise that preserves this character while it facilitates urban development in other appropriate locations."
At the same Metro hearing, Lake Oswego City Councilor Jeff Gudman said current urban growth policies have led to a 23 percent increase since 1990 in the number of people per acre in the Portland region.
"The densification we will see in 2050 or 2060 will be sufficient ... so that it will not require any extension of the existing urban growth boundary" or any added land for urban reserves, he said.
At the council meeting on March 7, Lake Oswego City Manager Scott Lazenby explained that the issue had been somewhat dormant due to a disagreement between Clackamas County and the Metro regional government; in 2014, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed and remanded an earlier decision by Metro to add Stafford as "urban reserve" land suitable for development within the next 40 or 50 years. Metro revised its findings, but Clackamas County officials decided in 2015 to temporarily hold off on the process until they could evaluate three other sites that might be brought into the regional urban growth boundary.
That stalemate came to an end with the election of County Commission Chair Jim Bernard in November, partly on the promise of resolving Stafford and abandoning County efforts to consider other rural areas for eventual development.
"It will provide land use certainly to residents and businesses for the next 50 years," Bernard said. "It's past time for the reserves to be settled. I am pleased that we are well on our way to making this happen."
Metro is scheduled to hold the second in a series of public hearings on March 16, and Bernard's renewed push for a resolution is prompting Lake Oswego to revisit its own
discussion about how to respond.
"They (Metro and the County) are looking right now at signing an intergovernmental agreement between the two of them," Studebaker told The Review, "and we're hoping that before they do that, they'll at least see whether they can take into consideration our particular concerns."
Lazenby pointed to a February letter from County Administrator Don Krupp and COO Martha Bennett to Metro and county commissioners, in which they recommended that the two groups execute a "memorandum of understanding" that addresses several of the concerns that have been put forth by Lake Oswego and the other cities.
Lazenby called the letter "a positive sign that Metro and the County are acknowledging the concerns of the City."
But the council also heard public testimony from Stafford Hamlet Chair Jay Minor and resident Dave Adams, who noted that the letter called for a memorandum of understanding rather than an intergovernmentaI agreement. They urged the council to advocate for an IGA, which they said would have "more teeth."
"We're really concerned about this fast pace, because it will foreclose on the possibility of another discussion," Adams added.
Lake Oswego city councilors didn't discuss the issue further at last week's meeting — Lazenby at one point indicated that further discussion might take place in an executive session — but Studebaker told The Review that Lake Oswego is indeed advocating for an IGA that would include it and the other cities.
"The cities are fairly well aligned," he said. "But if the County and Metro would give us some assurance — actually commit to some of the things we're talking about — it would make everything a lot easier. Instead they're telling us that they're taking our concerns under advisement."
Lake Oswego, West Linn and other cities sued Metro in 2011 after the original decision, which eventually led to the Court of Appeals reversal. Another lawsuit could happen, officials from all three cities have indicated, depending on how the current process plays out.
Axelrod recently told the Portland Tribune that his city was "discussing that option," and Studebaker described it as "a possibility."
"We'd like to avoid that because it's expensive — not hugely expensive, but it is expensive," he said. "But it is a possibility, of course."