Oregon's land-use planning system was thrown into chaos Thursday morning when the Oregon Court of Appeals remanded Metro's designation of urban and rural reserves for additional work.
The reserves were intended to designate where new development can and cannot occur during the next 50 years. Because the court upheld some of the designations but rejected others, none of them can take effect at this time.
The ruling was applauded by 1000 Friends of Oregon, one of the parties that had appealed some of the designations. Mary Kyle McCurdy, policy director for the land use watchdog organization, said the court agreed Metro erred by designating putting farmland into urban reserves in Washington County.
The court clearly understood the law and that Metro and Washington County did not apply it correctly. The substance of the law was to protect the best of the best farmland. Washington County overreached in claiming land for future development, undermining certainty for both industrial land and farmers, said McCurdy, who argued the case on behalf of her organization and the Washington County farmers. Washington County knew it was going outside of the law, and could not justify it. As a result, they put the entire reserves map in jeopardy.
Washington County Chair Andy Duyck said the next steps must be carefully considered, noting that the rural reserves are now longer valid.
"We were very disappointed by today's court ruling. For many years we have worked with our community members, Clackamas and Multnomah Counties, Metro, and state agencies in a good faith effort to conserve farmland and set aside urban reserves in anticipation of future growth in the region. As a result of today's ruling, our region faces renewed uncertainty just as the state's economy has started to recover. We will need to work with our community partners and consider our next steps carefully," said Duyck.
The decision supports the need for the 2014 Legislature to intervene and pass a bill to approve most of most recent urban growth boundary decisions, says state Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem).
"I think it's now clear that no one's going to have any certaintly for years unless the Legislature does something. There's a deal to be had here that will meet the needs of developers, farmers, industry and conservationists," says Clem, one of the authors of the so-called "grand bargain" the session has been considering.
State Rep. Ben Unger (D-Hillsboro) was also hopeful a compromise could be worked out this session.
"There's a way to assure preservation of farmland and economic development, if we can all sit down and talk about it," says Unger.
Clem says the next hearing on the bill could happen "any time." The session is scheduled to adjourn on March 5.
'Everything's off the table'
Metro President Tom Hughes disagrees, however, saying the court has asked for additional analysis and evidence that can be generated at the local level in a manner of months, not years.
"Metro has dealt with land-use remands in the past," Hughes says. "The Legislature wading into it now only adds to the confusion."
Hughes is pleased that the court upheld the concept of the reserves, even though it did not approve all of the designations.
Metro is responsible for managing the Portland region's urban growth boundary. Under state land-use law, every Oregon city must have an urban growth boundary plan that includes at least a 20-year supply of buildable land. Because there are so many cities in the region, Metro was handed the duties of coordinating and expanding the area's growth boundary.
Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey says city officials are discouraged by the ruling because it halts plans that have been underway to develop a new residential area south of the city and a new industrial area to the north.
"As I undertand it, everything's off the table," says Willey.
At the same time, Willey is not sure the Legislature can find enough consensus to pass a meaningful reform bill before it adjourns.
"Everything about land-use planning is controversial," says Willey.
The long-awaited ruling meant Metro's most recent urban growth boundary expansion are on hold because they were based on the urban reserve designations. Most of them were in Washington County, including two areas for new residential development and one for new industrial development.
Some other parties involved in the dispute declined to comment after the opinion was issued, saying they need time to study it. They included officials with Washington County.
Read the Court of Appeals ruling here: