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Metro Urban Reserves – Strike One
February 20, 2014
The Oregon Court of Appeals decided today that Metro’s urban and rural reserves have four legal defects and large parts must be done over.

The Metro urban reserves is by far the largest and most comprehensive land use planning project in Oregon history.  It included enough PowerPoints to keep In Focus in business and kept hundreds of public officials working tirelessly for several years to shape a firm compromise, which was respected by dozens of local governments.  The state land use agency and its governing commission (DLCD and LCDC) spent two years gently massaging the compromise into a 96 page order issued in December, 2012.

Twenty-two disgruntleds appealed the state’s order, and now the Court of Appeals spent 128 pages breaking down those arguments to say, in essence, that the counties, Metro and LCDC did the right thing on a substantial majority of the legal issues; however, there are some defects that require a major do-over.  First, Washington County misapplied two rural reserve factors, and must repeat its entire analysis of rural reserves.  Multnomah County wrongfully designated a rural reserve area adjacent to fast growing North Bethany and therefore must review all of its reserves for similar mistakes.  Third, the Stafford triangle cannot be designated urban reserve because the transportation system may (or may not – more findings are needed) lack capacity in 2035, primarily due to lack of funding.  (Presumably my car will be dead by then too.)  And finally, like a scratched record, the court again rejects decisions based on supporting evidence if the written analysis of that evidence (known as “findings” in bureaucratese) does not meet their rigorous standards.

Growth opponents substantially won in the sense of delaying completion of the reserves process by a few years, unless the legislature steps in.  The losers are Washington County, Clackamas County and Stafford land owners, Multnomah County, and the few private developers who participated.  And of course the taxpayers lose, especially in Washington County, which must go back to the drawing board.  We will (yawn) circle back in a couple years when this matter is back before the state following the do-over.

In the meantime, most of the people who work in land use have concluded that the system is becoming more and more an exercise in writing detailed findings to justify compliance with old policies, with less and less opportunity to formulate new public policy.
 



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