Metro Council heads toward unprecedented enforcement action against Troutdale
Sounding exasperated with a years-long effort to convince Troutdale leaders to put development limits on sensitive natural areas, the Metro Council voted unanimously Tuesday to "proceed with an enforcement action" against the city.
It's the first time Metro has moved this close to using its enforcement authority against a city it believes is not in compliance with its planning codes.
Metro's rules require cities to put limits on development in areas with certain levels of wildlife habitat. Spelled out in Title 13 of the Metro Urban Growth Management Functional Plan, 21 of the region's 25 cities have met Metro's requirements. Discussions are ongoing with Portland, Damascus and Fairview to line up their development codes with Metro's requirements.
But in November, the Troutdale City Council voted unanimously to reject changes to city code proposed by Troutdale planners and Metro staff. In an interview after the Metro Council's vote to proceed to enforcement, Troutdale Mayor Jim Kight said the city is already in compliance with Title 13.
"The City of Troutdale… has been very involved in maintaining our environmental quality," Kight said. "There's empirical evidence to support that. We're not anti-Metro. We just want to make sure that we're not layering on more rules and regulations where in fact we believe we are meeting those requirements."
Metro Councilor Barbara Roberts had a different view of the council's vote to reject the proposal.
"This is really a spit in your face kind of thing," she said at a Tuesday work session. "I feel like this is very clear – they don't have any intention to comply."
Title 13 isn't just a wildlife preservation issue. It requires cities to set limits on how much development can happen in environmentally sensitive areas; if a landowner wants to develop so-called Title 13 lands – which have already been identified – the landowner must mitigate the lost habitat.
The property rights issue was a factor in the vote, according to a November Facebook post by Troutdale City Councilor Eric Anderson.
"That, combined with the reality that certain property owners would lose portions of their land without compensation and that adoption of the code would adversely impact our Urban Renewal Area were all the evidence I needed to realize that this was not a good policy," Anderson wrote.
Metro staff said that many state and federal regulations already limit the amount of development that can occur on the Title 13 lands.
The Metro Council can't explicitly force Troutdale to comply with Title 13, but it can withhold funding from regional programs like the Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program or planning grants until it deems Troutdale compliant. It can also ask the state to take its own measures, including withholding liquor and gas tax distributions.
Metro staff said the agency can also implement its own Title 13 compliance measures in Troutdale until Troutdale meets Metro's standards.
After four extensions of deadlines to meet Metro's definition of compliance, the council clearly had had enough. Councilors took the rare step of casting a vote during a work session to formally start the enforcement process, which would require a hearing on the compliance matter to be held within 90 days.
"They've shown no interest in coming into compliance," said Metro Council President Tom Hughes. The council, he said, seems to be asking "What are you going to do if we don't?' I think we need to answer that question."
Note: An earlier version of this story did not explain all of Metro's enforcement power on Title 13. This post has been updated.