Some people had hoped to deviate from the pecking order that values
farms and forests above other lands. They wanted to give more weight to
the needs for housing and jobs in smaller "subregions" within
the area when it comes to expanding urban-style growth.
But it appears that a lengthy state approval process will nix the
chances of taking such a controversial step when Metro expands the
growth boundary in December.
The state's seal of approval
could have translated to the resource land being used for industry in
Cornelius and Forest Grove, which are struggling economically in western
Washington County. It also might have opened the door to additional
housing outside Hillsboro or to space for jobs in Clackamas County.
As the Portland area's regional government, Metro is the keeper of
the invisible line that corrals urban development. Metro leaders said
they would have thought long and hard before expanding onto farmland,
even if the state said yes in time for their December vote.
"One question is, can we do it? The other question is, do we
want to?" said Carl Hosticka, the Metro Council's presiding
officer. "We have never decided whether we want to or not."
But councilors laid the groundwork Thursday to consider such a method
for future boundary expansions, which they must undertake at least every
five years. The council voted to ask the state's Land Conservation and
Development Commission to make rules for addressing specific needs of
Government leaders had hoped to get the go-ahead this spring in a
less formal process. On the advice of the attorney general's office, the
state land commission instructed Metro to follow the lengthier approval
Metro has identified about 100,000 acres of potential expansion land
outside the current boundary. About two-thirds is being studied.
Analysis of the remainder, the more valuable farmland, was put on hold
until the state responded.
The council has treaded carefully, partly
because courts overturned decisions to add several large properties in
the last boundary expansion.
Metro Councilor Rod Park, who is overseeing the expansion process,
said the regional government shouldn't pay for a detailed analysis if
subregions aren't an option.
Councilors wouldn't rule out the use of subregions definitively
Thursday, but they don't expect an answer from the state commission
until this fall at the earliest. That probably would be too late to
study subregions before the December expansion deadline.
The blow hits hardest in
Washington County, which is nearly surrounded by prime farmland.
Developers, real estate agents and local officials have lobbied for
expansion in the area, even if that means overriding the state's land
Several development executives and local officials supported
Thursday's decision to ask for a rule, saying it will help their cause
in the long run.
Others, including Cornelius Mayor Ralph Brown, said the situation is
urgent. He said he will do anything he can to speed up the state
"This is a very disappointing thing for us," he said.
"We've worked very hard with Forest Grove to try to get it taken
care of. We'll do what is necessary to see that there are jobs in our
But the delay may come as a relief -- if only a temporary one -- to
those who oppose expanding to farmland in Washington County.
Many farmers say urbanization will cripple their businesses and ruin
their way of life.
groups say there is no excuse for eating up valuable open space when
plenty of lower-level land surrounds the boundary.
Some local officials, particularly in Portland, criticized Metro's
decision to move forward so quickly to make a permanent rule that would
allow subregions to be considered. Players across the region should have
time to hash out the issue, said Mayor Vera Katz, who opposes using
subregions to expand the growth boundary.
"You could probably show that there are imbalances in parts of
this region," Katz said. "But to show that you can correct
that with an expansion of the urban growth boundary is a fallacy."
You can reach Laura Oppenheimer at 503-294-5957 or by e-mail at