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Washington County rural reserve change dies quickly

A key lawmaker has killed off a proposal to eventually allow urbanization of 1,700 acres in Oregon's Washington County that are currently in a rural reserve.

COURTESY METRO - Farmland in Oregon's Washington County. A key lawmaker has killed off a proposal to eventually allow urbanization of 1,700 acres in Oregon's Washington County that are currently in a rural reserve. SALEM — A proposal to reclassify 1,700 acres in Oregon's Washington County from a rural reserve to an urban reserve was killed shortly out of the gate.

Under House Bill 4075, the land could have been included in the Portland metropolitan area's "urban growth boundary" instead of being shielded from development for 50 years.

After the bill's first public hearing on Feb. 8 before the House Agriculture Committee, proponents and critics of HB 4075 learned it would go no further.

The committee's chair, Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, said the bill was too "problematic" for a thorough vetting during 2018's short legislative session.

"This bill will not be moving forward this session in this committee," Clem said.

Many of the arguments for and against HB 4075 were familiar in Oregon's ongoing land use debate.

Supporters claimed more development in burgeoning Washington County would fuel Oregon's economic "engine" of high tech development, which shouldn't be sacrificed for the "sacred cow" of preserving farmland.

Detractors argued that urbanization should become more condensed before spreading out, saving not only farmland but the agricultural infrastructure — such as machinery and input suppliers — needed to sustain the industry.

However, the discussion over urban and rural reserves also has another dimension due to the a "grand bargain" struck by lawmakers four years ago.

The concept of reserves became part of Oregon's law use law in 2007, when the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1011 aiming to improve the metropolitan region's long term growth planning.

In 2012, the state's Land Conservation and Development Commission approved the rural and urban reserve designation developed by Portland's Metro regional government and the counties of Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah.

Two years later, though, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that LCDC had made several errors in its approval, which threatened to greatly prolong the reserve designation process.

That court decision prompted Oregon lawmakers in 2014 to pass a compromise bill establishing urban and rural reserves, effectively bypassing the bureaucratic process for such designations.

Opponents of the HB 4075 claim that "a deal is a deal," but if lawmakers go down the road of altering the 1,700 acres in Washington County, it will be difficult to reject future adjustment requests.

"This break of a settlement jeopardizes the reserves," said Mary Kyle McCurdy, deputy director of the 1,000 Friends of Oregon conservation group.

Steve Callaway, mayor of Hillsboro, acknowledged his city signed onto the "grand bargain" in 2014, but said it didn't expect so much land to be taken off the market over the next four years.

Hillsboro no longer has enough acres in urban reserves to adequately plan for the future, he said.

Jon Chandler, CEO of the Oregon Home Builders Association, said that "planning theory" in this case has run up against reality, which justifies an adjustment.

"Things change and these assumptions can't be sacrosanct," he said.