SPRINGFIELD -- The largest landowner in an area where city officials are looking to expand Springfield's urban growth boundary has come out against the proposal.
The Straub family, which owns 56 acres within the proposed expansion into the Seavey Loop area, has told the lead planner on the project it has shifted its stance from neutral to opposed and requested its land be excluded from the expansion.
"Expanding the UGB and changing the zoning of this area to industrial will significantly and irrevocably change the character of this land, and my family does not believe this is the best or highest use of the property," Jim Straub wrote in an email to planner Linda Pauly. Straub manages the family's land holdings in Lane County.
"Beyond any financial considerations, we wish to see the land preserved for use for future generations as we have enjoyed."
The announcement complicates the city's consideration of the proposed expansion area to accommodate business and industrial development. Seavey Loop residents near the proposed expansion area started a campaign against the expansion, saying they feared industrial development would cause air and water pollution and pave over farmland. Opposition from a major landholder within the proposed expansion zone adds muscle to the critics.
Charles Stewart, who owns an organic farm near the proposed expansion area and is at the forefront of the opposition campaign, said the announcement delivers a crippling blow, and he urged the city to drop the proposal.
Residents are "rejoicing that (the Straubs) have chosen to make this announcement and make clear that they're completely opposed to the UGB expansion," he said.
Mayor Christine Lundberg said the council policy is to exclude from an expansion zone the holdings of those opposed to the expansion, and it would honor the Straub family's request.
But Lundberg said she's "not keen on dismissing the area until we've had thorough discussions with open minds about it."
She said the neighborhood still is viable for UGB expansion even without the largest landowner.
"We just need to sit down, take a deep breath, talk about the pros and cons about why that area was included. Have some rational and reasonable discussion about it," Lundberg said.
"I'm not going to be make decision based on fear, misinformation and hysteria," she added.
The city is exploring dedicating the so-called College View site -- so named because it is near Lane Community College -- and two other areas as the future homes for large industrial and commercial employers. A consultant found a shortage of such property within Springfield's existing urban growth boundary.
The College View area is east of Interstate 5 and south of Franklin Boulevard and Seavey Loop Road. The other two areas are north of the Gateway area and along South 28th Street.
The city identified 196 acres within the College View area suitable for business development. Of that, nearly 51 acres is owned by the Straub family. The family property is the largest single-ownership tract within the proposed expansion area. It is zoned for exclusive farm use.
The proposed area also has eight parcels of at least 5 acres apiece, but a developer could have to negotiate with different owners to assemble them into a larger site.
City officials already had scaled back the College View expansion proposal by one-third -- 249 total acres compared with an initial proposed 362 acres. They said they did this to put more distance between any proposed industrial uses and existing rural homes and farms, and to remove land that has high-value soil or is prone to flooding. Sloping terrain and the presence of Bonneville Power Administration high-voltage power lines and restrictive rights-of-way were other reasons planners shrunk the area.
The smaller a proposed expansion area becomes, the less attractive it may be for the city to bring it into the UGB. The city has to weigh the cost in public and private funds to install roads, sewers and other infrastructure, against how much expansion land would be gained. The smaller the area, the less interested developers might be in the newly available land.
Straub said in an interview one factor in his decision was that he'd get less money selling the land zoned for industrial use than for farm use. That's because it would take years, if not one or two decades, before the city and developers could extend roads and utilities needed to develop the land if it were brought into the urban growth boundary, he said.
"It felt like changing the zoning almost was putting handcuffs on it a little bit," he said.
Other factors were the rural history of the property and the neighbors' concerns. Straub grew up on the land and his parents, Michael and Linna, still live there. His grandfather, Robert Straub, who served as Oregon's governor from 1975 to 1979, bought the land in the late 1950s and lived on it. Straub said he talked with leaders opposing the expansion, and they influenced his decision.
Straub said he hoped city officials would honor the family's request.
Pauly has scheduled a neighborhood meeting on Aug. 26 to update residents on the proposal. Pauly held a similar meeting last year, when Straub said he told her the family took a neutral stance on the proposal but would gather more information.
The City Council is next set to discuss the proposed expansion areas on Sept. 8. A decision is expected by the end of the year.
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