More Washington County land-use antics

Carla Axtman

As I continue to explore the esoteric land-use policy of Washington County, I'm consistenly struck by what appears to be exceptionally odd decision making. For example, in what seems to be a complete disregard for expert opinion and reasonable public policy, the Washington County Planning Commission green-lighted a zoning change at their March 17 meeting for a 58 acre parcel inside land designated for rural reserves.

The land in question was purchased in 2008 by Ken Leahy, a Cornelius contractor. The land, as far as anyone in the area seems to know, has been farmed for at least the last 50 years.

In February, Leahy filed to have the land re-zoned from exclusive farm use to rural residential housing. Leahy's attorneys and consultants deemed the land no longer suitable for farming based on the parcel's slope, irrigation restrictions, sun exposure, pesticide, parcel size and microclimate issues. More here and here.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture systematically debunks each of these claims noting that the threshold for Leahy's land to have the zoning change requires: 1. The land is physically developed to the point that it can no longer be used for what it's zoned to do (in this case, farming) or 2. the land is committed to uses that are not allowed for the current zoning because adjacent property makes it impractical. Leahy's application attempts to meet neither of these thresholds.

The Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development tackles Leahy's application as well, knocking down their arguments.

Even the Washington County Department of Land Use and Transportation, an entity that rubber stamps virtually every land use application, recommended against approving the application.

So why did the Washington County Planning Commission vote for this mess?

Nick Christensen, Hillsboro Argus:

"Why we are denying one person doesn't make any sense to me," said Herb Hirst, one of the planning commissioners. "There was no real justification not to approve it."

Well golly Herb, the fact that it doesn't actually meet the standards for approving it might be a justification, don'tcha think? Sheesh.

One wonders if Hirst even bothered to read the documentation from DLCD, Washington County and the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Their documentation is overwhelmingly knocking down Leahy's entire application. Hirst's quote borders on breathtakingly shameful.

The Argus story goes on to say that approval from the county would be a first. Senior planner with Washington County Dept of Land Use and Transportation, Aisha Willits, told the Argus that it's been 15 years since anyone even tried to get a zoning change like the one Leahy is proposing, let alone approved.

Neighbor Jay Melican, who lives adjacent to the Leahy property, didn't receive a notice that his neighbor was attempting to get the zoning change. Melican said he found out through a sign that was posted at the property. He said he didn't know if other neighbors had found the sign too, but he was the one who informed the rest of the neighbors about the Leahy application. Most didn't testify at the Planning Commission hearing. Melican said, "We thought it was theoretically impossible, what they (Leahy's group) were asking. They have to prove it's not longer practically farmable." Melican said that the common belief was that the application couldn't come close to meeting that threshold. Since the Planning Commission meeting, the neighbors have rallied together to fight the application.

Given that most of the neighbors came into the process late, Melican has asked for a continuance from the Washington County Commission, which meets Tuesday morning at 10:00 AM. The scuttle is that County Chair Tom Brian is ill and isn't expected to attend, and that the Commission will need his vote to break a potential tie.

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    As a Washington County resident, my trust for my county elected officials continues to decline. They're clearly making decision without majority constituent consideration.

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      The elected Board of Commissioners has not actually rendered their decision yet. The Planning Commission, by a 5-3 vote, recommended approval of the application, a decision I disagree with (I was one of the 3). The Board was asked by opponents of the application to continue the hearing to May 18, which I understand was agreed. The Board will make the final decision on the application, and I for one hope they'll look past the PC's recommendation, at the law and evidence, and render a different decision.

      Bear in mind that the Planning Commission consists of appointed volunteers, not elected County officials. Sometimes members vote their opinions, not evidence and law.

      For the record, I chair the Washington County Planning Commission.

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        Thanks for coming by, Marc.

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        Thanks for being a voice of reason on the planning commission Marc! I have seen a number of appointed Washington County board members vote their opinions over legal facts and eschew public input.

        The Washington County Fair Board, on which Mr. Hirst has served for several years, is one of the boards in question.

        Thanks again! Linda

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        Hey, if this is a FB app, is there a way to preserve the FB functionality where it says WHO "Likes this"? I should have just hit the "Like this", but then it's just an anonymous count. If you can, preserving the way FB does it would be more in line with the non-anonymous nature of BO 2.0.

        I noticed on one post where you told KH he was full of himself that two people "liked" the item. Making a cut, and allowing people to anonymously say, "yeah, yeah", is pretty much what we were told wouldn't be happening anymore.

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          We have the data, but displaying all the names will slow things down even further. Facebook doesn't allow us to cache the name lookups, so each name displayed requires a data request to Facebook.

          That said, the F8 conference - for Facebook developers - is underway today, and we're being told that some new connectivity functionality is being rolled out. Stay tuned.

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    Washington County will be the front lines for land-use. I drive the border of rural and urban development everyday. More and more areas are getting cut into rural reserves to make way for companies like Genentech that are creating jobs in Oregon. The only problem is, as well with other companies around the area like Intel, they are also bringing in educated persons from around the world to work. We need to address our education needs in order for Oregonians to have the power to obtain the jobs that are created here.

    As the campaign manager for Travis Comfort, who is running in Senate District 15 that encompasses much of the debated areas, I feel just like you Dominic.

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    I'm really enjoying this series where you're riding herd on the Wa Co land use issues. To my mind it's what journalism should be. Original research in an area that would normally be too opaque and esoteric for most to get up to speed on, summarized around the consequential bits. That's journ, not the retweeted news that plasters the front page of the majors.

    I always wonder in these discussions about cross purposes, among progressives. When someone touts jobs, the city growing, etc., there's never- that I can remember- any talk about issues like this. The developers aren't out to cut every last tree, they're out to make every last dime. They wouldn't be fighting if there weren't pressure to build. That pressure comes from population, growth, and a perception of what a state of the fart subdivision should look and feel like.

    Shouldn't we take some of the blame for that pressure, if we're 100% "rah, rah, grow the city, bigger, bigger, bigger, more industry, etc."? For that matter, is there any area in American life that doesn't depend on constant growth? Can constant growth be sustained? Until ANYONE puts an alternative on the table, it's hard to be too surprised by the perennial, persistent, outcome.

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    Top notch bit of reporting Carla.

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