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Small City EOAs after Scappoose

Some good news for Oregon cities in the Daily Journal of Commerce. See the wiki page Small City EOAs after Scappoose to review suggestions for other cities. Ed.

A potential game changer for Oregon cities

The Oregon Court of Appeals’ recent decision to allow the city of Scappoose to annex a 380-acre parcel into its urban growth boundary could impact future UGB amendments, according to land use experts. (Sam Tenney/DJC)

The city of Scappoose, which lies approximately 30 miles northwest of Portland, has struggled in recent years to find ways to fill the economic gaps left after the timber industry dried up and the numerous mills around the area closed.

But that may soon change in light of a recent decision by the Oregon Court of Appeals that will allow the city to annex a 380-acre parcel of industrial land into its urban growth boundary (UGB).

The decision isn’t expected to alter only the future of Scappoose. Land use experts say the court’s ruling, which upheld a prior decision by the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC), is expected to change the fortunes of other cities in Oregon that have run into opposition from residents and environmental groups when they have tried to bring land inside their urban growth boundaries.

Jordan Ramis shareholder Tim Ramis, who argued the appeals court case for the city of Scappoose and has worked on the legal side of land use issues for decades, agrees the decision may indeed be a game-changer.

“I think the court will be more willing to approve UGB amendments and refrain from overturning (in cases) where LCDC and local government have created a good record for compliance with the law,” Ramis said. “I think it’s a good sign.”

The parcel in Scappoose, according to Scappoose City Manager Michael Sykes, is one of the last few large chunks of industrial land left in the Portland-metro area. Since 2011, the city had been trying to bring it into its urban growth boundary in order to allow the owners, Joe Weston and Ed Freeman, to move forward with development. Because the property is located near the Scappoose Industrial Airpark, the city believed that airport-related businesses that could be established there would help spur job growth.

“(Columbia County has had) some setbacks because of our dependence on natural resources,” Sykes said. “Plenty of (timber) mills have closed in the past 15, 20 years. There’s always been a vision that (area) could be a hub to industrial development.”

Not everyone in Scappoose agreed, however. A group of citizens opposed to bringing the land into the UGB asked the LCDC to review the case. The commission ultimately determined the city had provided enough evidence to show that bringing the property into the city’s UGB would create enough jobs and attract enough people in the future to justify the move.

Patricia Zimmerman, who lived in the city at the time and was opposed to the plan, remained unconvinced. She decided to appeal the LCDC decision to the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Because the Scappoose case was subject to a legal test called substantial evidence, the LCDC had based its decision on whether it felt the city of Scappoose had provided ample evidence to justify allowing the city to bring the land into its urban growth boundary. The usual approach attorneys have used in the past to argue such cases when they advance to the appeals level has been to argue the evidence of the case.

“In the case of industrial land, you’re trying to show the amount of land you’re proposing is supported by evidence you need this land,” Ramis said.

Ramis, representing the city in the appeal, knew that other cities in Oregon had ended up on the losing end when their similar battles had landed in the state’s appeals court. So he and his team decided to take a different approach.

“We chose not to argue the evidence of the case,” he said. “Instead, we argued the court’s scope of review should be limited.”

In other words, Ramis and his team argued that the appeals court’s responsibility wasn’t to determine whether there had been substantial evidence in the record to support the original decision. Instead, the court’s role was simply to determine whether the LCDC understood the law when it ruled that Scappoose had provided adequate evidence to show that future population growth, spurred by development on the land, would support and justify including the 380 acres in the city’s urban growth boundary.

“The court agreed … it should defer to the expertise of the LCDC,” Ramis said. “Sometimes simple is best.”

The appeals court’s decision could be overturned if the state Supreme Court agrees to consider the case. However, Zimmerman’s attorney, Michael Sheehan of Sheehan & Sheehan LLC, said his client has decided not to pursue the issue further.

“It’s done,” Sheehan said.

Before development can begin on the property, it will need to be annexed into the city’s UGB, Sykes said. He doesn’t expect to run into hurdles in that area, however. Although at one time, annexing land into the city required voter approval, city residents about a decade ago voted (54 percent in favor) to eliminate that requirement.

The city hasn’t heard of any specific plans for the 380 acres yet from the property owners, according to Sykes. At one point, he said, there was talk that Portland Community College was considering land around the airport as a location for a Columbia County campus.

Whatever eventually rises on the land, Sykes believes it will help the city increase the number of jobs within its boundaries – helping those already living in the city while also attracting new residents.

“Approximately 90 percent (of those living in Scappoose) commute to jobs in either Beaverton or Portland,” he said. “We’re hoping this becomes a catalyst for growth.”

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See the wiki page Small City EOAs after Scappoose to review suggestions for other cities.