For the past seven years — through court appeals, public hearings, town halls and written statements — West Linn has consistently aligned itself with a chorus of residents who oppose future development in the rural Stafford area.
Now, as Metro and Clackamas County continue to push forward with plans to designate Stafford as "urban reserve" land — which would be open to development within the next 50 years — West Linn and the neighboring cities of Lake Oswego and Tualatin are working toward something of a compromise. If the land is indeed to be developed over the coming decades, the cities want one thing to be clear: They will be in charge of that development.
That sentiment is at the heart of a proposed five-party Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that may soon form between the three cities, the county and Metro. In the absence of such an agreement, the cities fear that development 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 West Linn Mayor Russ 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. Now we would have a structure in place where, if there comes a time for changes, we'll concept plan it."
The issue dates back to 2010, when Metro originally designated Stafford as urban reserve land. That designation was later reversed and remanded by the Oregon Court of Appeals in February 2014. Debate continued in the ensuing years, and in early 2017 newly elected Clackamas County Board of Commissioners Chair Jim Bernard stated that solving the Stafford issue was a top priority moving forward.
According to Metro, urban reserves are lands that lie outside of current growth boundaries and are suitable for urban development in the next 40 to 50 years. Typically, the urban reserve designation is the precursor to being included in the urban growth boundary.
Stafford totals about 6,230 acres surrounded by West Linn, Lake Oswego and Tualatin, and only a small percentage of that acreage is considered developable. The cities and many residents, however, say that any development would likely cause significant problems related to infrastructure and transportation.
Yet where some see trouble, the county, Metro and developers are tantalized by the prospect of growth in Stafford. A 73-page report from Metro with descriptions of urban and rural reserves concluded that "Stafford is one of the most obvious candidates for an urban reserve designation in the entire region."
The Stafford Hamlet, for its part, voted to approve a compromise plan that would allow the area around Borland Road to be developed as urban reserve, with the rest of Stafford in the area north of the Tualatin River falling under the "undesignated" category.
Amidst all of these competing interests, the five parties worked through much of early 2017 to craft an IGA. The latest draft of the IGA would bring Stafford into the urban reserves, but only on the condition that the cities would control development and the area would not be urbanized "before appropriate urban services will be available."
That last part is crucial, as Axelrod said the cities have no interest in developing the area anytime soon.
"We're not interested in sprawling over the area right now," he said. "We have big things to deal with — transportation, sewers, water and the City is embarking on a master plan for the waterfront right now."
Axelrod added that he supports the overall goals of the Urban Growth Boundary.
"But that doesn't mean we need to create urban sprawl within it," he said. "Stafford is one of those unique spots, it's very difficult to put more people in that area."
Should the five parties agree on the IGA, the three cities would then work on a separate IGA to address how they would work together on future Stafford issues.
Clackamas County is expected to adopt findings related to Stafford at its May 11 meeting. The board was also aiming to approve the IGA at that date, but Axelrod said that vote may be delayed as the parties evaluate revisions made to the document.
"The cities are currently uncertain about this latest development by the County or Metro and whether there may or may not be significant new concerns," Axelrod said.
By Patrick Malee
Assistant Editor, West Linn Tidings
Pamplin Media Group
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