WaCo Commission: lessons in bad faith

Carla Axtman

In what seems like a pretty egregious case of bad faith dealings, the Washington County Commission has decided that they're not finished trying to squeeze more prime farmland into urban reserves, well past the deadline.

Washington County has already shown itself to be a rogue player in the urban and rural reserves process. Now the County Commission has decided to make it worse by trying to tweak the map that's already been passed by Metro. Keep in mind that this group along with the work groups who did the mapping had a year and a half to sort this stuff out before they sent things off to Metro for approval. It's supposed to be done and in the hands of the Oregon Department Land Conservation and Development to review and decide upon.

In what seems like a pretty egregious case of bad faith dealings, the Washington County Commission has decided that they're not finished trying to squeeze more prime farmland into urban reserves, well past the deadline. At their May 11 Board of Commissioners meeting, they decided to make some additions to the urban reserves map for the county.

There were four requests to add to the urban reserves. Two were denied. Two were passed.

The first that passed was a set of miscellaneous requests for 212 acres of road changes. Basically, Washington County (led by Tom Brian) was too busy trying to shoehorn land into urban reserves to pay attention to how they laid out the boundaries, in some cases making urban/rural reserve boundary lines down the middle of roads. This proposal allows the County to make the entire rural road easement in question into urban reserves. For practical purposes the County could make "urban improvements" (sidewalks, landscaping, etc). Not only does this encroach on rural reserves (and as you'll see in upcoming posts, this encroaching is just the tip of the iceberg), its an issue with farmers who will have to plow, till and spray along these pedestrian walkways. These "improvements" incidentally would be at significant expense to Washington County taxpayers while landowners would be responsible for ongoing maintenance and upkeep.

More...and a way for you to take action to stop this craziness below.

Of course there isn't a discussion of making these easements rural reserves, because that wouldn't make it quite as easy for Washington County to come back in a few years to claim that they'd already urbanized the roads..and wouldn't it just be better to let developers come in and build shiny new corporate office parks and houses?

At yesterday's Metro hearing on the issue, Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington tried to defend the proposal, saying essentially that Washington County is just trying to make something right that should have been done in the first place. Perhaps if the county had actually taken time to thoughtfully plan the urban and rural reserve map during the EIGHTEEN MONTHS they had to get it done rather than staking out a gigantic urban land grab, they could have managed this most basic of policy issues. But now they want to jam it through with very little public input.

Harrington also said that this effort simply brings Washington County in line with the same type of work Multnomah and Clackamas did with their right of way on rural reserve roads. But Clackamas County Commissioner Charlotte Lehan told me that Clackamas never addressed the issue. "We definitely have made no effort to bring these right of ways into urban reserves. I thought it was peculiar when Washington County wanted to make all these road changes," she said.

Lehan went on to say Clackamas County's rural/urban reserve boundaries were generally not along roads. The county mostly used natural areas or tax lots instead, which is why the issue likely didn't come up for them.

Gasp! Clackamas County actually took a thoughtful and careful approach to the urban/rural boundary lines! Imagine that...

The second proposal is a 129-acre parcel known as the Peterkort property . The proposal would move it from rural to urban reserves. The property has a 77 acre island of developable land on the north side of the wide Rock Creek floodplain. The argument for placement in urban reserves is to obtain cheap and easy permission for a sewer line and 46 acres of wetland mitigation (presumably to serve the North Bethany project, another miserable development scheme). This proposal is a sly little attempt at a quid pro quo in which the Peterkorts get their land in urban reserves and the county gets a sewer and wetland easement. And in the meantime, 10,000 more people get piled into the Bethany area, a place where roads are already bursting with traffic. Apparently if you've got the right contacts with the Washington County Commission, you can get an individual negotiation for your property. The county could certainly work with the Peterkorts to obtain the easements without creating another epic housing development mess. But why deal in good faith with the region if you can make sneaky little deals behind everyone's back?

During the initial mapping process, it was decided that this land should remain in rural reserves after months of discussion. But now Tom Brian is saying this property is essential for urban services to service North Bethany, a project that few to no local residents want anyway. Clean Water Services says it is too expensive to do anything else. As Larry Duyck of the WaCo Farm Bureau testified yesterday, "It's all about THE DEAL."

This effort to develop the Peterkort property is typical of the way Washington County government has approached development. Housing tracts on this parcel would create a small urban island with no grocery store or other retail services/daily needs within walking distance. Thus residents will have to drive. It's the same miserable lack of appropriate planning the county has consistently thrust upon the residents.

Traffic on the already overwhelmed Germantown and Cornelius Pass Roads over the mountains will drastically increase. Nevermind that they already cut through one of the most important wildlife corridors in the region.

It's ridiculous that Metro even has to bother with these two proposals. Some citizens in the region are stepping up to push back, but it hasn't been enough to check Washington County. Metro needs to hear from regional residents about this mess.

Here's the part where you can take action to rein in this craziness. Contact your Metro Councilor and let them know this is not going to fly. If you want your comments on the record, they must be submitted by Tuesday, May 25. It helps to cc [email protected], too.

Metro Councilor emails are as follows: Robert Liberty: [email protected], Rod Park: [email protected],Rex Burkholder: [email protected] ,Carlotta Collette: [email protected], Carl Hosticka: [email protected], Kathryn Harrington: [email protected],David Bragdon: [email protected]

If you're not sure who represents you on Metro, go here.

You can also call (503) 797-1540 to leave your message via phone

  • (Show?)

    Business as usual in Washington County. So disheartening.

  • (Show?)

    This is why progressive get so disheartened whenever a decent candidate comes forth, and s(he) is dissed for not being electable because the person doesn't shuck and jive like the rest. Electability often comes down to shuck and jive ability. People naturally do what they're good at.

    Thank you for continuing to ride herd on WashCo land use!

  • (Show?)

    "Business" can still change direction in Washington County if we elect Greg Mecklem and Greg Malinowski to the Board in the fall. Dick Schouten has two years left on his term as a district commissioner; he and the two Gregs would make a sensible and conscientious majority who are NOT joined at the hip-pocket to the pavement-minded development establishment. Whether you live in Washington County or elsewhere in the region, a contribution of money or time to either Greg's fall campaign is an investment in sustainability for all of us.

    In the meantime, Carla's right: we must flood Metro and Washington County Board members with emails, calls, letters, and appearances at hearings. And if Metro approves this latest grab anyway, everyone who's thus on the record has standing to challenge the whole package when it goes to the Land Conservation and Development Commission for approval.

    If you're protesting the last-minute inclusions, don't forget that the IGA map already included as Urban Reserves thousands of unneeded acres of Tualatin Valley's finest Foundation Farmland north of Hillsboro and Cornelius, and portions of Cooper Mountain that clearly qualify for Rural Reserve protection. It also leaves Foundation Farmland between Hwy 26 and West Union Rd. "undesignated", which lays it open for the next round of speculative investment. So there's plenty to object to: 1) the excess Urban Reserves on Foundation Farmland and Natural Areas that qualify for Rural Reserve protection; 2)the lack of protection for Foundation Farmland left undesignated around Hwy. 26; 3)the last-minute inclusion of the Peterkort property, which meets none of the Urban Reserve factors; 4)the last-minute inclusion of the Rural sides of roads into Urban Reserves, which would encourage urban encroachments onto the supposedly-protected farmland.

    Thanks, Carla, for solid and incisive reporting here.

  • (Show?)

    This is a wealth of info. that Carla Axtman has provided- thank you for making the effort. Also thanks to Linda Peters for the in-depth post.

    I don't make it to the still-rural areas much and was pleased to find out that there are Roosevelt elk north of Rock Creek- seems obvious we have plenty of subdivisions in our county, but habitat which supports elk? Not much of that.

    I'll attempt to process this info. into a letter to Carl Hosticka, Metro Council.

    Carla Axtman- you would be a great candidate for WashCo board!

  • (Show?)

    The Save Helvetia! website provides info. that the elk habitat in question is part of the wildlife corridor which connects Forest Park with the northern Coast Range. The habitat also supports cougar and bobcat.

  • (Show?)

    Carla: thanks for the informative and detailed post. And Linda Peters is absolutely right, we can still change the direction of the County by electing Greg Mecklem and Greg Malinowski.

    • (Show?)

      For full disclosure: Sean is the campaign manager for Greg Malinowski.


      • (Show?)

        And Linda is co-chair for Greg Mecklem! :D Further disclosure, I'm Mecklem's treasurer.

        Great points, well written by all; thank you so much.
        Some sub-points against urbanizing roads in rural areas:
        A)Farm equipment needs these roads to move from field to field. As traffic increases both in volume and speed -as happens when roads are widened- this becomes dangerously impossible. Even limiting road usage to night hours (while hardly a reasonable imposition) has proven an unworkable solution on urban quality roads through farmland! So protecting the Rural quality of roads through farmland becomes as important as protecting Rural designations & zoning. Many have testified to this point, but it's a point that has received little respect. It bears repeating! B)In addition, the impacts to wildlife increase as roads become wider & more heavily traveled!

        Please follow Carla's suggestions to contact Metro councilors. THEN elect both Greg Ms to the county commission!

connect with blueoregon