The Power of Not Knowing

by Jeff Gudman

What’s happening in Stafford? it is a divided question. On the other hand is the belief that the cost of infrastructure is so high that significant, urban development will occur elsewhere, like what is happening now in South Hillsboro. The Stafford area will remain much as it is.
On the other hand, is the belief that the land is too close to the urban growth boundary when combined with the expansion of the I-205 freeway (tolled or not), the associated diversion of traffic onto Rosemont and Stafford Road will increase the case for urban development and city councils will succumb to the siren song of densification of rural land.

The issue is divided. I am back basically for the former, or what we know as Save Stafford, but i might be wrong.

Yet, local policy makers can’t just shrug their shoulders; they have to make, change and act upon policy. So., what should they do in the face of uncertainly? The answer, i’d argue, is to make decisions that won’t do too much damage if their preferred take on the future is wrong. In the current context that means the cities of Lake Oswego, Tualatin West Linn should purchase land in the Stafford Triangle. If i am wrong and dense development comes, then land will have been purchased for open spaces and parks before it becomes more expensive. If i am right then land purchased at current market rates will provide benefit to the cities. And if it turns out significant development never comes to the Stafford Triangle then the cities will have benn following their comprehensive plans with respect to the Stafford Triangle and taken a small action about climate change. The risk here is not in making a bad forecast but by failing to understand the risks of not purchasing land are much higher than the risks of purchasing land.

Stafford could take the path of South Hillsoro, wich has seen heavy development in recent years.

The issue then becomes: Are property purchases consistent with Lake Oswego’s Comprehensive Plan, the cost of purchasing land, how to pay for it and what are the ongoing operating costs.

Comprehensive plan – The comprehensive plan states the goal is to maintain the rural character of the upper Stafford basin to support land uses such as sustainable agriculture and parks in close proximity to the city center consistent with the provisions of the inspiring Places and Spaces Chapter. “In the upper Stafford basin support a rural buffer between any urbanized areas and existing communities of Lake Oswego, West Linn and Tualatin to maintain the individual character of each community.” An efficient and compact urban form. In other word, using the city’s design standards development should be up not out.

Purchase cost – Fortunately there is already two pieces of property in the area up for sale with a known asking price. The Kuhls property, slightly under 30 acres for $4.5 million (about $150,000 per acre), is directly adjacent to already owned Luscher property group. The city’s previous purchases of Luscher Farm, Taylor Property, Firlane Property, Brock Property, Stevens Meadow and Rassekh, and the benefits they have brought to the city, demonstrate the wisdom of forward-looking land acquisitions.
An additional property, slightly under 14 acres, adjacent to th Kuhls property, is also for sale for $2.3 million (about $165,000 per acre). For comparison purposes the city recently paid $700,000 for five acres ($140,000 per acres) adjacent to Stevens Meadows and a net of $1.65 million for 2 acres ($825,000 per acre) adjacent to Hallinan Woods. The Kuhls property and the adjacent property are already on the market. That makes negotiations more straightforward.

How to pay – The properties can be purchased by the city in turn with funds from a more equitable distribution of school district “bond premium” As discussed in last month’s opinion piece.

Operating Cost – Both properties are open fields. Whether they properties stay as open fields or are replanted with trees, the incremental operating cost of the properties is relatively small. Or the city can replant the land with trees. We gain a carbon sink and perhaps the opportunity to sell carbon credits for trees planted. There is, of course, nuance and trade-offs in this proposal.

Nonetheless the benefits of purchasing land look to far exceed the cost regardless of what may happen in the Stafford Triangle. If we do not take care of the conditions that enable us prosper, then we will not prosper in the end. This is an opportunity for the city to prosper now and for generations hence. The city should move forward with the acquisition of the Kuhls property and the second adjacent property.

Jeff Gudman is a former Lake Oswego city councilor and candidate for state treasurer.

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