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'Grand bargain' gets green light in Salem

On Feb. 27, when the House Committee on Rules voted 8-0 to send House Bill 4078 to the full House with a “Do Pass” recommendation, the mood in the hearing room at the state capitol building was almost giddy.

State Rep. Val Hoyle (D-Eugene), House Majority Leader and chairwoman of the Rules Committee, said she was highly impressed with the cross-section of support for the bill.by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Maps showing proposed new urban growth boundaries and land use zones were on display Feb. 27 in the House Rules Committee hearing room in the capitol building.

“I can’t remember any time this diverse a group has supported this type of land use plan,” she said “It was painful and intense, but this product is amazing.”by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - The Oregon House of Representatives approved House Bill 4078 last week with a unanimous vote.

After the drama of getting it through the House Committee on Rules, the measure was sent to the House floor, where it was supported 59-0.

On Tuesday, March 4, the Senate also unanimously voted in support of the bill. It will now go to Gov. John Kitzhaber for his signature.

HB4078 has been referred to as a “land use grand bargain” because it seeks to address critical land use issues in Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah counties — issues that were made even more pressing when, on Feb. 20, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed and remanded land designations set in 2011 by the Land Conservation & Development Commission (LCDC), Metro and the three counties, putting regional planning in limbo.

“With passage of this bill, cities, schools and developers will have immediate certainty,” said state Rep. John Davis (R-Wilsonville), one of the bill’s co-sponsors and a key player in finding a compromise the many diverse stakeholders could support. “I appreciate the continual work with all the jurisdictions involved to make progress.”

“This bill came together because all the interested parties listened, collaborated and compromised to protect Washington County’s balanced economy,” added state Rep. Ben Unger (D-Hillsboro), who also worked behind the scenes to reach a final deal. “The threat of time helped grease the wheels of compromise — but in the end it took leadership from all parties involved.”

In particular, the bill shifts 600 acres of land in Helvetia — which had been categorized as urban reserves in 2011 — back to rural reserves. Further, the bill stipulates that land planned and zoned for farm, forest or mixed farm and forest use, and not designated as urban reserve, may not be included within the urban growth boundary (UGB) before at least 75 percent of the land in the county has been included in UGB and planned and zoned for urban uses.

The bill also requires the city of Hillsboro and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue to enter into a service agreement for coverage of specified unincorporated communities in Washington County.

Although the Legislature’s intervention in this land use issue was created by unique circumstances, Unger said that does not mean legislators won’t be engaged in the future.

“The Legislature will remain involved in land use decisions,” Unger said. “We’re always adjusting the program we created 40 years ago, and full participation by the Legislature is important to making land use work at the local level. It’s an ongoing partnership — but for Washington County, this should be the only decision we need for a while.”

There apparently was some late wheeling and dealing needed before all parties agreed to the bill, as evidenced by the fact the Rules Committee’s afternoon session to vote on HB4078 was rescheduled several times. First it was set for 1 p.m., and then it was rescheduled to 2:30 p.m. and finally to 3 p.m., when the committee members voted unanimously to recommend the bill’s passage by the full House.

State Sen. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) said passage of the bill will bring immediate benefits to Washington County and to Hillsboro.

“This is so important to the city,” Starr said soon after the committee’s vote. “Certainty is so critically important for landowners inside and outside the boundaries. This allows South Hillsboro to go forward, and Hillsboro can move forward with its master planning efforts.”

Starr praised the efforts of Davis and state Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem) for their efforts in finding a strong consensus on the bill.

“The agreement was done in a common sense way,” Starr said. “At end of the day, these representatives brought stakeholders together and hammered out a compromise in the truest sense. Now the county can stop spending money on process and lawyers.”

The issue of balance was on Unger’s mind.

“This bill meets the overall objective of having the right balance of farmland and industrial land,” Unger said. “This process is the Legislature at its best; bringing communities together to solve problems.”

During the committee hearing, Clem said he believed every party involved would gain from the proposed bill.

“There was a compromise here. Hillsboro gets a lot of certainty, and everyone else needs flexibility and gets an advantage that way,” he said.

Despite the unanimity that greeted the bill in the end, however, there was controversy early. During the morning hearing, Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith raised objections to the bill, pointing out that Clackamas County needed to be able to develop more of its land to create more employment opportunities.

“Our urban reserves are islands surrounded by rural reserves,” Smith said. “What we’re trying to do is create a jobs base of our own. Sixty percent of our citizens travel out of the county for jobs elsewhere.”

State Rep. Bill Kennemer (R-Oregon City) asked if roads would be allowed to be built through areas designated as rural reserves to reach designated urban areas.

“Yes, you can build through rural reserves to access urban reserves,” said Clem, who used Jackson School Road north of Hillsboro as an example.

“The Jackson School Road area is a rural reserve, but the city of Hillsboro can build roads, sidewalks and sewers to it, and the new urban growth boundary areas can be accessed by infrastructure,” Clem explained. “They can do those things, but they need to discuss it with Washington County.”

“With this bill, do you think Clackamas County will be more harmed or less harmed than before the process started,” asked Hoyle during the hearing.

“More harmed,” responded Smith.

Hoyle turned to Clem for a response.

“Are we benefiting Washington County at the expense of Clackamas County?” Hoyle asked. “Do you feel Clackamas County will be harmed?”

“I feel it will be helped,” Clem responded. “There were so many urban resources removed in Washington County in favor of rural reserves — Washington County gave up literally thousands of acres of urban reserves, which will push development to Clackamas County.”

Before the Rules Committee voted, Unger said the committee process was critically important.

“The bill is in liquid form now,” he explained. “Once it gets out of the committee, it’s a solid and becomes very difficult to change.”

Before the committee members cast their votes, chairwoman Hoyle called a number of stakeholders to testify. One by one, representatives from the Oregon Homebuilders Association, Oregon Farm Bureau, Washington County Board of Commissioners, city of Hillsboro, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, Metro and 1000 Friends of Oregon and others expressed support for the bill. And although Clackamas County declined to endorse the bill, the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners moved from opposition to being officially “neutral” on the bill.

“I believe we have all parties happy,” Hoyle said.

Clem praised all the parties involved for their spirit of compromise.

“I thank everyone for their time with what could have been a crisis,” he said.

After the full House endorsed the measure on Friday, John Platt, a board member of Save Helvetia, an coalition of residents devoted to protecting farmlands in the Helvetia area, said the group’s members were “comfortable” with the overall changes represented in HB 4078. However, he added that he found the land use process very troubling.

“We don’t like legislators doing land use planning in a democratic society. We need the voice of the people. But because of the overreaching by Washington County, there was not much choice but to have the Legislature intervene,” Platt said. “We’re happy the land was moved back to rural reserves. That was the basis of the court case. We’re certainly happy the legislation shifted land designated as the best farmland in the state to rural reserves, rather than paving it under. But we’re very disappointed in the process. At the local level, the process was tilted from the very beginning to taking farmland and putting it under pavement.”