When Clackamas County commissioners meet May 23, they expect to reaffirm Stafford as an urban reserve — open to development in the next 50 years — and approve an agreement with three neighboring cities on how that process will unfold.
The commissioners were on the verge last week of taking both actions, which would have resolved a decade-long controversy. In the end, they decided to wait for legal teams to settle on final language and for city councils in Lake Oswego and West Linn to review and approve it.
Lake Oswego's council did so on Tuesday, by a unanimous vote. West Linn councilors are scheduled to cast their votes Thursday night.
"We're delighted," Mayor Kent Studebaker told The Review after the vote. "It's better to get it done now than have nothing."
County Board Chairman Jim Bernard, who ran in 2016 on a pledge to resolve the issue, had wanted to move ahead last week despite last-minute haggling over the wording of the agreement.
"This is worse than marijuana," he said as the audience laughed, referring to the still-unfolding consequences of Oregon's 2014 ballot measure legalizing marijuana for recreational use. "It just keeps coming back to us."
But Commissioner Martha Schrader, who was in office in 2007 when state lawmakers launched the process of determining urban and rural reserves, said "a week or so isn't going to kill anybody."
"All we are talking about is timing," Schrader said.
The postponement satisfied West Linn Mayor Russ Axelrod and Lake Oswego City Councilor Jeff Gudman, who urged the commissioners to hold off until their councils signed off on the agreement. The Tualatin City Council approved the agreement May 8 and delegated further review authority to the city manager.
Only the Metro Council and Clackamas County must approve the revised findings on Stafford to satisfy an Oregon Court of Appeals ruling. But if the land is indeed to be developed within the next 50 years, the cities want one thing to be absolutely clear: They will be in charge of that development. And that's the sentiment at the heart of the proposed five-party Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) between the three cities, the county and Metro.
In the absence of such an agreement, the cities fear, that development only would be directed by Metro and the county.
"The language preserves the ability for cities to have control in concept planning (in Stafford), and for it to be integrated and coordinated among the cities and done at our pace," said Axelrod, who has worked alongside city, county and Metro officials to craft the proposed IGA. "Another key objective is to lower uncertainty for Stafford and the people living in the hamlet — let them get
on with their lives and let
the cities get on without constant pressure to do something."
Bernard said he expects that after separate votes by the county board on the findings and the IGA, all the participants will sign the final documents.
"I have lived this for eight years," he said. "Every single word (of this agreement) is just like making sausage. It has gotten so crazy. We certainly have done a lot of public outreach. As long as the amendments are not substantive, we are ready to sign."
Once the findings are approved by ordinance and the intergovernmental agreement is signed, the matter returns to the state Land Conservation and Development board, which may take it up at its July 20-21 meeting in Klamath Falls.
As a result of an Oregon Court of Appeals decision three years ago, Clackamas County and the Metro Council had to supply more detailed findings to justify the designation as an urban reserve of 6,230 acres surrounded by Tualatin, Lake Oswego and West Linn.
Tualatin and West Linn were among the challengers in court to the original 2011 decision by Metro and the three Portland-area counties to designate urban and rural reserves. The cities argued it would be costly for them to extend streets into Stafford, much of which is hilly terrain.
The Metro Council adopted revised findings for Stafford back in February 2016, and on April 13, the council declared that 23,031 acres designated as urban reserves were sufficient to allow for growth in the Portland region through 2060.
Under the pending agreement, a concept plan must be laid out before urban services are extended into Stafford, most likely by one or more of the cities. Commissioner Ken Humberston said water and sewer lines are most likely to precede development.
Dave Adams is vice chairman of the Stafford Hamlet, which has advanced a plan that calls for minimal development of much of the largely rural area, except for Borland Road and areas bordering Interstate 205.
While Adams said the proposed county action is not what he wants — he had called on commissioners in April to reject the revised findings for Stafford — the pending agreement "acknowledges that the cities and citizens have a stake" in how the area is developed.
"It gives us the keys," he said.
Chip Laizure of Lake Oswego spoke for the Stafford Land Owners Association, which has advanced a different plan for development.
"We think this is long overdue," he said of county action.