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Save Helvetia citizen testimony at the LCDC October meeting

Greg Mecklem

Washington County Placement of Rural Reserves and Undesignated Lands

Date: October 1, 2009
To: Chair Vanlandingham and the Land Conservation and Development Commission
From: Greg Mecklem, Pacific Crest Accoyo America
Re: Washington County Placement of Rural Reserves and Undesignated Lands

I farm in the Helvetia area of Washington County. I’ve been closely involved in the Metro Reserves process in recent months. I’m very concerned about the placement of Rural Reserves and “undesignated lands” in the current process in Washington County for a number of reasons.

Meaningless Placement of Rural Reserves

First, there are very few areas where Rural Reserves are placed adjacent to the current Urban Growth boundary unless 1) there is the presence of a flood plain, rendering the area “undevelopable”, or 2) they are distant from any threat of development pressure. The intent of Section 3 of Senate Bill 1011 to protect those prime agricultural areas that meet all of the criteria for Rural Reserves was simply not addressed.

Unfortunately, much of the best land in the county is “close in” to the UGB, and lesser quality land is slated for protection, turning Senate Bill 1011 on its head. An example is the portion of Helvetia north of Hwy 26 recommended for Urban Reserves ( Map Area #1). 10.0% of this area is Class I Willamette Silt Loam, and 20.0% of West Helvetia is in Class I Willamette Silt Loam, one of only two soil types in the county with this Soil Capability Class. To put this into perspective, the agricultural areas further west not threatened with development but proposed for Rural Reserves (Map Area #2) consist of only 2.5% Class I soils.

Undesignated Lands

When positioned between Urban and Rural Reserves, or around small rural towns such as North Plains, “undesignated lands” simply become an extension of the Urban Reserve they abut. In many cases, they occupy the highest value productive farm land on the valley floor. Residents of these lands and farmers that lease them would have difficulty planning for longer term crops that may be the best use of that land due to the uncertainty of their development potential. These “undesignated lands” seem to conveniently occur primarily in low slope, easy-to-develop areas.

An example of the “undesignated lands” problem is the area surrounding North Plains (Map Area #3). There is no apparent reason to place these lands as undesignated except to allow North Plains to more than quadruple in size over the next 40 years. This is only going to encourage it and other small rural towns to become “commuter hubs” for the greater metro area, leading to more sprawl and pollution. These lands are also some of the highest value farmland in the county, with more than 20% Class I Willamette Silt Loam. The undesignated lands around North Plains alone constitute four square miles of prime agricultural lands.

In conclusion, failure to designate “close in” prime lands such as Helvetia as Rural Reserves even though they meet all the criteria while “protecting” lesser lands not threatened by development does not meet the intent of Senate Bill 1011. Positioning “undesignated lands” around small rural towns encourages them to become commuter hubs and cover prime agricultural lands with development. Positioning them between Urban and Rural Reserves simply extends the Urban Reserve and creates confusion and uncertainty in planning for crops. Some leased land will be simply withdrawn from production for speculative reasons.


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