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Metro Council hears more about Stafford status

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Question facing councilors on March 16 is whether 23,000 acres, including undeveloped area in Clackamas County, are sufficient for development in the next 40-50 years.

Metro councilors heard still more testimony about whether Stafford should be open for eventual development, even though the council faces broader questions than the fate of the area bounded by Tualatin, Lake Oswego and West Linn.

The council sought Thursday (March 2) to settle whether Metro has set aside enough land for projected urban growth in the Portland region during the next 40 to 50 years.

The council also has to decide whether those urban reserves — currently 23,031 acres, about a quarter of which are in Stafford — best achieve livable communities and also protect farms, forests and natural features.

The council voted last year, after public hearings and an extended discussion in 2015, to reaffirm its 2011 decision to include Stafford as an urban reserve. Council President Tom Hughes said no changes are contemplated in the map of urban and rural reserves during this pair of hearings.

"But this does not open the way to development now or anytime in the near future," he said.

The council has scheduled a second hearing March 16, when it also may take a step toward declaring the amount of urban reserves sufficient for the region's needs.

Thursday's hearing pitted Clackamas County — whose board since Nov. 8 has favored resolving the status of Stafford — against the three cities and a number of hamlet residents opposed to extensive development.

Commissioner Jim Bernard unseated an incumbent to become board chairman, 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."

A long debate

Not so fast, said West Linn Mayor Russ Axelrod.

"All three cities in the area oppose the development of Stafford," he said. "It's not appropriate and not reasonably feasible."

The process of defining reserves goes back a decade, when the Oregon Legislature passed a law empowering Metro and three counties to start.

Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas, who took office in 2011 just as Metro and the counties concluded their initial work, now finds himself in the minority.

"We cannot afford more of the same," he said.

"We find ourselves here 10 years later with millions of dollars lost in court battles, staff time, record numbers of men, women and children homeless, a transportation system that is woefully inadequate, a shortage of low-income housing and jobs that can support families."

As a result of a 2014 decision by the Oregon Court of Appeals, Metro and Clackamas County must adopt more detailed justification for their 2011 decision to designate Stafford as an urban reserve for eventual development. The court also ruled the same for Washington County, but lawmakers settled it with legislation in 2014.

City opposition

Tualatin, Lake Oswego and West Linn 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," Axelrod said, "and the efforts of the Stafford hamlet to find a compromise that preserves this character while it facilitates urban development in other appropriate locations."

Jeff Gudman, a Lake Oswego city councilor, 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.

The cities were among those that sued in 2012, following approval by the state land use agency of the 2011 approval by Metro and the three counties of urban reserves. They might sue again.

"We are discussing that option," Axelrod said. "But we need to move on to other pressing matters."

Divisions persist

Bernard said a pending agreement between Clackamas County and Metro would involve the cities and the hamlet in how Stafford would eventually develop, first within the region's urban growth boundary — Stafford is outside of it now, so it cannot develop — and then annexation by one or more cities.

But Axelrod said the cities have not had time to assess the situation and have no veto power over the agreement.

Jay Minor, board chairman of the hamlet, said recent actions by officials to resolve the Stafford dispute have called into question residents' hopes for their own plan. The plan would result in most future development occurring along Borland Road and Interstate 205 at the southern edge of Stafford — but almost no development of the hilly terrain in the north.

"I am opposed to building up the Stafford area," and in favor of preserving it for wildlife, said Thomas Greyerbiehl, a middle-school student whose grandparents grew up in the area.

But Ed Trompke of Lake Oswego said he would like to build his dream house in the area once the status of Stafford is settled.

"Please, let me keep my wife happy and move in the area," he said to audience laughter.

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