Agriculture would be better off under previous system, Gresham farmer says

By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The latest plan to manage growth in the Portland Metro area falls short of protecting farmland, farm proponents say.

The map Metro Council forwarded Thursday, Dec. 17, places nearly 29,000 acres in urban reserves, nearly 10,000 acres more than a more farm-friendly map that previously was rejected.

And it places approximately 12,000 acres of prime farmland -- called foundation ag land -- into urban reserves.

That's a large jump from the slightly more than 7,000 acres of prime farmland designated as urban reserve in the more farm-friendly proposal advanced by councilors Rod Park and Robert Liberty. Their plan was rejected.

Park, a Gresham, Ore., farmer, said he believes Metro Council's current urban and rural reserves proposal will not pass the council if it returns in its current shape.

The proposal was released this week for public comment.

"I couldn't vote for it," Park said. "Not under what I see at this particular time. There is way too much foundation ag land (designated urban reserve)."

Park said three other councilors on the seven-member panel have similar sentiments.

The Washington County Farm Bureau and farm representatives on a Metro reserves steering committee also have come out against the proposal.

Under the urban and rural reserves process, Metro councilors are coordinating with commissioners from the three Portland Metro area counties to designate land for urban and rural uses for the next 40 to 50 years.

Designating land an urban reserve doesn't bring it into a city's urban growth boundary, but it puts it first in line for consideration.

The process was adopted by the 2007 Legislature to provide clarity and stability for city and county planners and for farmers who operate near cities.

Under the 2007 law, all parties must agree on the reserves, or land-use planning reverts to the current system, where government planners adjust urban growth boundaries every five years.

Foundation ag lands are the last to be brought into urban growth boundaries under the current system.

Park said several areas under consideration for urban reserves in the map advanced Dec. 17 are contentious, including land in the Stafford area and land north of Hillsboro.

The proposal calls for rural reserves of approximately 240,000 acres -- about 14,000 acres less than the rejected Park-Liberty proposal.

"The question in front of agriculture is: Are we better off under this process or under the old process?" Park said. "Unless people get reasonable in their expectations, I think agriculture would be better off under the old system.

"Under the old hierarchy, some of the lands being considered would not be on that list," Park said.

As of press deadline, Metro had yet to finalize times and dates of hearings on the proposal. Councilors plan to hold seven open houses, including three in front of the council, over the next few weeks. Councilors hope to have a final plan in place by the end of February.

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