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Volume 17, Issue 11
November 2019


SNR Report finds room for improvement

by Virginia Bruce

For many years, community members, and especially CPO representatives, have been asking Washington County to provide more information on how Significant Natural Resources (SNRs) are being protected during land use actions such as development and redevelopment of properties near streams and other natural resource areas. In response to these requests and others, the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) added a study to the 2019 County Work Plan. The draft report was published on October 4, 2019 and is available to read online. Washington County’s website has a page covering the report.

Great blue heron
Protected wildlife habitat allows this Great blue heron to live successfully in Washington County. Photo: Jim Long

What is an SNR?

Section 422 of the Community Development Code (CDC) defines several categories of SNRs. These include:

  • Water areas & Wetlands: 100- year flood plain, drainage hazard areas and ponds, except those already developed;
  • Wildlife Habitat: Sensitive Habitats identified by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Audubon Society Urban Wildlife Map, and forested areas coincidental with water areas and wetlands;
  • Significant Natural Areas: Sites of special importance in their natural condition for their ecological, scientific and educational value; and
  • Metro’s Regionally Significant Fish and Wildlife Habitat Inventory Map: Areas identified as Regionally Significant Fish and Wildlife Habitat on Metro’s Inventory Map.

Metro, the regional planning agency, published the Urban Growth Management Functional Plan to guide jurisdictions in developing within the UGB. The plan provides tools to meet goals of the 2040 Growth Concept, Metro’s long-range growth management plan for the Portland metropolitan area. Title 13 of the plan, called Nature in Neighborhoods, aims to conserve, protect and restore a continuous ecologically viable streamside corridor system integrated with upland wildlife habitat and the urban landscape.

Key findings

Although Washington County was an early adopter of Statewide Planning Goal 5 and is in compliance with Metro Title 13, over time, amendments to the County’s Community Development Code have altered and confused the original intent making it difficult for residents and developers to understand.

The County must amend Section 422 to modify standards that are not clear and objective, as identified in a recent Land Use Board of Appeals decision. [LUBA Decision 2018-045, saying that the county’s rules were not “clear and objective” and 2018-089, denying the county’s appeal]

Finally, a Tree Code?

It’s very important to note that for the first time, Washington County is acknowledging the possibility of implementing a “tree code.” Under the previous County Chair, efforts were consistently shut down, as the report notes.

“Over the years, community members and the CCI have advocated for changes to the County’s tree removal and protection requirements and have requested the County develop a ‘tree code’ with more stringent tree protections. County residents, especially in Cedar Mill, Bull Mountain, Metzger and more recently Cooper Mountain have requested the County require new developments to retain more trees onsite or mitigate for their loss by planting new trees elsewhere onsite or at a nearby location offsite…

“Due to a combination of limited staff resources and low Board priority, development of new tree code standards was not elevated to a Tier 1 task on the LRP Work Program in 2011 or later years.”

Now even some developer groups support “some form of tree protection regulations as a replacement for the unclear SNR requirements. Several developers/consultants believed tree protection/preservation standards to satisfy mitigation requirements on sites with SNRs would provide a clear and objective path and allow for more certain outcomes through the land use review process.”

CH Cover

Next steps

Staff recommendations include an overhaul of the CDC to revise subjective standards, bring maps and inventories of resources up to date, and improve specificity for SNR impacts and Habitat Reports.

CPO 1 will have an SNR Report presentation from the county at its November 12 meeting. Public input will be taken until November 25, and “staff will incorporate comments and finalize the Report, including options and recommendations.” The final recommendations will go to the BCC for potential inclusion in future Work Programs. Actions may include revision of CDC standards through Ordinances.

Plan to attend the November 12 CPO meeting, either in person or by viewing the live stream on our Facebook page, and bring your questions and comments. The report is, for the most part, clearly written and interesting, so if you care about natural resources in our beautiful county, take a little time to read this important report and follow its effects.

You can also visit the “Online Open House” and comment there.


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Published monthly by Cedar Mill News LLC
Publisher/Editor:Virginia Bruce
PO Box 91061
Portland, Oregon 97291
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