Metro's Columbia River Crossing review largely upheld; UGB review could be needed
In the realm of Oregon land use law, the Columbia River Crossing now ends at the north shore of Hayden Island.
That's because the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals ruled Thursday that Metro couldn't use a quirky procedure called the Land Use Final Order to approve the parts of the Columbia River Crossing project outside the urban growth boundary.
In North Portland, the boundary is where the Columbia River meets Hayden Island, meaning the 1500-or-so feet of the project over the river's Oregon side have to go through a standard Oregon land use review.
When the legislature authorized the order in 1996, it said the jurisdiction for the LUFO only existed in Metro's urban growth boundary. That, the board ruled, means Metro overstepped its bounds in 2011.
"The special procedures and approval standards created by the 1996 statute only apply to projects that are located within the Portland UGB," the board wrote in its ruling. "While that limitation appears in definitions, rather than in the substantive parts of the 1996 statute, we agree with petitioners that Metro’s approval of a project that is not located entirely within the UGB exceeds the authority Metro was granted by the 1996 statute."
The board of appeals ruling looked at eight complaints about the Columbia River Crossing, ranging from the impacts on a business on Hayden Island to whether the LUFO rules allowed Metro to authorize what is primarily a freeway project. The appeals were filed by Plaid Pantries, the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, the Coalition for a Livable Future, Jantzen/Angel LLC and the owner of some local Taco Bell franchises.
Only the urban growth boundary issue was sustained by the board of appeals.
Michael Lilly, an attorney representing Plaid Pantries, had only taken a preliminary look at the ruling on Thursday afternoon, but said he was happy with the result.
"Basically, they've decided that Metro's approval of the bridge portion of the Columbia River Crossing light rail project was non-valid," he said. "They're going to have to do something different."
That something different could be an urban growth boundary expansion, adding about 20 acres of the Columbia River into the urban growth boundary. The only parts of the river within the urban growth boundary are the south channel at Hayden Island and parts of a reach north of Wood Village.
"In order to make sure we cross our t's and dot our I's, we should consider an expansion," said Councilor Rex Burkholder, who has championed the project at Metro.
Acting Metro Chief Operating Officer Dan Cooper said such an expansion would require an amendment to the region's plans, but suggested the process would be fairly straightforward, particularly compared to the 1,975-acre urban growth boundary expansion the council approved last week.
It would take at least 60 days for the council to go through an urban growth boundary expansion process.
The council could also amend the LUFO, bringing it into compliance with the board of appeals ruling. That, however, could lead to a standard land use review for the project, a process that could get bogged down in politics and take months to complete.
The whole point of the LUFO is to streamline the land use review process, including appeals – for example, appeals on the Land Use Board of Appeals' ruling go directly to the Oregon Supreme Court.
Cooper said the Columbia River Crossing, TriMet and Metro would meet soon to discuss the best course of action. But, he said, he didn't think the ruling would result in a delay for the project.
"Nothing's going to be held up while we do this," he said.