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Portland City Council poised to rezone Colwood golf course for industry, future park

In a “redo” of a failed 2008 plan, the owners of the Colwood National Golf Course, working in tandem with The Trust for Public Land, are seeking to convert the private 138-acre golf course west of Portland International Airport into an industrial site and future public park.

The Portland City Council has scheduled a 2.5-hour public hearing on the proposal Wednesday, starting at 2 p.m. at Portland City Hall.

The Trust for Public Land, working closely with the Honolulu-based Saunders family that owns the golf course at 7313 N.E. Columbia Boulevard, has worked out a deal that would allow the 48.4-acre northern part of the golf course to be rezoned for industrial uses. A pond and wetlands on that site would be filled, to remove an aviation hazard for airplanes from geese attracted to the wetlands.

Then the nonprofit would acquire the remaining 90 acres of the golf course and, if all goes according to plan, hold that land until the city of Portland or another government entity acquires that parcel for a future park. The property owner would create and enhance other wetlands on the future park site, including valuable habitat along the Columbia Slough, to compensate for removing other wetlands to the north.

The proposal requires changing the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning changes, and the city hearings officer has recommended council approval, if certain conditions are met.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who is obligated not to tip her hand because of the “quasi-judicial” nature of Wednesday’s land use hearing, said she’s trying to evaluate the proposal on its land use merits, so it’s not dependent on later actions, which might include new park land for the city. Fritz would only say that there’s been a “good community conversation” about the proposal, and it’s been “much less controversial” than in 2008.

At that time, the Saunders family sought to rezone 115.5 acres of the golf course for industry, and the Port of Portland was eying that site for a future airport terminal building or cargo facility. The remaining 22.5 acres straddling the Columbia Slough would have been preserved and donated to the public.

Business interests welcomed the 2008 proposal, especially given the city’s shortage of large industrial parcels. But neighbors, environmentalists and others opposed the airport development and loss of so much green space, especially since the Cully neighborhood is considered starved of public park land.

The City Council wound up rejecting the plan.

This time, Don Goldberg of The Trust for Public Lands stepped in to represent the family. The nonprofit often plays an intermediary role in acquiring environmentally sensitive private lands on a temporary basis, then making them available for long-term protections under government auspices.

The proposal Goldberg negotiated with the family, neighborhood residents and others shifted the balance so most of the golf course would remain as open space, likely in a park setting. The runway extension is no longer being considered. The proposal still brings “shovel-ready” industrial property near the airport, which is a rarity. Business interests say it would be ripe for development, and could accommodate up to 825 jobs.

At 90 acres, the park would be large enough to be of regional interest. That’s more than half the size of Washington Park, and nearly half the size of Mt. Tabor Park, two other Portland regional parks.