What has come to be called the French Prairie Agreement results from the adoption of a vision statement regarding the French Prairie area by Clackamas and Marion Counties and the cities of Aurora, Canby, Donald, Hubbard, Wilsonville and Woodburn in early 2006. This agreement defines an area of interest in the French Prairie area because (among other reasons):
- Agriculture is the largest industry in Clackamas and Marion Counties;
- The Northern Willamette Valley, commonly known as French Prairie, is home to some of the richest and most productive soil in the world;
- The highest and best use of most lands south of the Willamette River that are not part of an existing city or an existing city’s planned growth expansion area is for agricultural and agriculture-related purposes;
- The Willamette River provides the best natural barrier between the urban and rural areas of the Portland metropolitan region and the rich agricultural lands of the Willamette Valley;
- There are many acres of industrial land that can be redeveloped throughout the Portland-Metro region for additional industrial needs and uses;
- Land use policies should not be violated to benefit one entity or special interest for their financial gain at the expense of the greater good of the region’s residents and businesses
Municipalities formally adopting the French Prairie Agreement as of this date are:
- City of Donald
- City of Hubbard
- City of St Paul
- City of Wilsonville
- Marion County
French Prairie Vision Statement
What is French Prairie and Why Create a Vision for It?
This vision incorporates agreement between Marion and Clackamas Counties and the cities of Aurora, Canby, Donald, Hubbard, Woodburn and Wilsonville to work together to protect French Prairie–a regional area of interest–from development inconsistent with preserving its historical and cultural significance and agricultural importance, while accommodating the growth of existing cities and livable, unique communities through good planning.
The Northern Willamette Valley, known as French Prairie, is bounded to the north by the Willamette River, to the east by the Pudding River, to the west by Champoeg and to the southern Woodburn Urban Growth Boundary. The local jurisdictions of French Prairie agree that this is an area of mutual concern that deserves special consideration for three reasons:
- French Prairie is highly productive agricultural resource land—an economic engine for the region and the state
- French Prairie is one of Oregon’s premium trademarks with great historical cultural, and tourism value
- French Prairie is vulnerable to strip development along I-5 that detracts from existing distinct city centers
Economic Vitality and Oregon’s Niche in the World Marketplace
This area contains some of the richest soils in the world. The products of this soil are the reason why agriculture is the leading industry for both Clackamas and Marion Counties. Oregon is competitive in the global marketplace because it offers something few other places in the world can—wonderfully rich soils, combined with a long, moderate growing climate, centered on the Pacific Rim with excellent air, marine, rail and highway connections. It is almost paradise.
The partners of French Prairie believe it would be foolhardy and shortsighted to trade our niche in the world’s economy for industries and uses that can be located on less productive lands. The partners support enhancing Oregon’s agricultural dominance and strengthening the value-added industries that naturally spin off of such prime resource land, and are vital to our local and state economies.
French Prairie: A Cornerstone of Oregon’s Character and Identity
Oregon has a wonderful reputation across the country for its beautiful scenic areas and fertile lands. Oregon carries the image of magnificence and allure. It is little wonder that it is drawing in the young, creative people in unprecedented numbers and will continue to attract more than a million newcomers in the next 20 years to the Willamette Valley.
Besides its economic, historical and cultural significance, French Prairie is one of Oregon’s premium signatures. French Prairie and the Willamette Valley are tourist destinations. They provide Oregon’s identity of an abundant, rich land. We cannot afford to shortchange this reputation, our identity or our character.
Distinct Urban Centers: An Important Civic Value
The cities and counties of the northern Willamette Valley value and promote the development of urbanized regional and town centers that strengthen compact urban form and enhance the economic stability of each unique jurisdiction. With the constant pressure of the Portland Metropolitan region to maintain a 20-year land supply for development, it is only a matter of time before the metro region creeps down the valley along I-5, gobbling up this precious resource, threatening our vital agricultural industry and damaging the economic vitality of Oregon.
Without clear intentions otherwise, urban growth will sprawl down the Willamette Valley, creating a mega-city stretching from Portland to Salem along I-5, much the same as is the reality in Washington State between Tacoma and Everett.
Without a strong vision and agreement to concentrate development in regional centers and cities, land speculation along the freeway will create this linear development pattern, seriously compromising agriculture in the Willamette Valley and the integrity of existing cities. French Prairie should not be treated as land just waiting for warehouses and parking lots since it is already home to Oregon’s top industry—agriculture, that is highly productive and profitable.
What are the Threats and Challenges to French Prairie?
During the last Urban Growth Boundary Expansion process, urbanizing French Prairie was seriously studied by Metro and promoted by the Port of Portland and commercial land developers. It was a difficult and long battle, but ultimately the voices of the citizens and local jurisdictions were heeded and the UGB expanded in other areas. But without the clear intentions of the affected jurisdictions for the future, Metro is likely to once again consider expansion in this area.
Even without the need to expand the UGB, land speculation pressures in this area are high. For example, during the 2005 legislative session, land owners and development speculators made several attempts to obtain special approval for development outside urban growth boundaries, particularly in French Prairie.
Additionally, attempts have been made to garner support for the construction and
expansion of a highway cutting across the fertile farmland of French Prairie from the Newburg area to connect with I-5. Similar threats continue to surface. While on-going vigilance is necessary, a cooperative agreement among the affected jurisdictions will provide a stronger and clearer understanding of our expectations for this area and for planning purposes.
What is the Intent of this Vision Document?
The intent of this agreement is to present clear expectations to Metro and other planning agencies and to enhance communication about these issues among the
affected jurisdictions. The intent of this agreement is not to prejudice any jurisdiction’s primary obligation to its constituents. Where there is a perceived conflict, we agree to discuss the conflict and work toward a compromise in approach. Ultimately, the parties may establish an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) to set up a long term process of consultation, cooperation and mutual assistance, that preserves local control and an open public process.
In addition to the parties of this agreement, the French Prairie Coalition may seek assistance from the state and regional agencies and governments and others who may play a role in a successful outcome as envisioned for French Prairie and the Northern Willamette Valley.