By Don Mac Gillivray
Predicting how much our region will grow is the job of the Portland Metropolitan Service District (Metro) and it isn’t easy.
The current approximate population of the Metro region is 1.6 million residents. It is anticipated that the region will grow by one third over the next twenty years so Portland will need to make room for another half a million residents.
Metro has the responsibility to control the growth of the region through the management of a boundary line around the region called the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB).
Many believe that this increased density can be accommodated within the existing UGB while many other folks feel that it will require much more land to satisfy this growth.
Less expansion will save high quality farmland from development and reduce the need to extend the regional infrastructure and services. The right balance will always be illusive.
Metro must plan for growing regional needs so that there is both room for residential communities and many employment options for the residents of the region. Every six years, the region’s growth must be reviewed and the need for its expansion considered. It may be that managing the UGB is Metro’s most important function.
It is vital to the health of the region and all the communities in the northern Willamette Valley as well as in Vancouver, Washington.
Last December 13, Metro unanimously approved the expansion of the UGB in four locations adding 2,200 acres for 9,200 new homes. Over the years this expansion process has proved to be very controversial.
This year the process was changed and the results were accomplished with little acrimony. A new policy framework is in place with a task force to review and determine the future needs of the region.
In reviewing proposed changes, Metro conducts policy, legal, and technical reviews, and sees that the additions meet various critical factors required for inclusion.
The boundary is to keep growth contained within reasonable limits to protect farm and forest land and reduce the expensive expansion of urban infrastructure like roads, utilities, schools, parks, and emergency services.
A concept plan is required for all new urban land to be included within the UGB. The key elements that these cities must provide are: community commitment, the ability to pay off needed infrastructure, and the market demand for the new developments.
In 1973 Governor Tom McCall and the state of Oregon adopted the current land use planning laws. An Urban Growth Boundary was formulated around the Portland Metro area and the other cities in Oregon beyond which cities could not expand.
Every six years growth projections are determined. With public review, the boundary is modified so that there is enough land to meet the housing needs for the next twenty years.
The Portland UGB includes twenty-four cities and more than sixty special service districts. Since its beginning, the boundary has been expanded about thirty five times, but the size of each addition is usually less than one hundred acres.
For much of the past year, Metro has reviewed various options for expanding the existing UGB. The final expansion proposals that were adopted included four additions on the western edge of the region in Washington and Clackamas Counties.
The proposals submitted by cities to the Metro Council for expansion were:
• Cooper Mountain in Beaverton: 3,760 homes on 1,232 acres,
• Witch Hazel Village South of Hillsboro: 850 homes on 150 acres,
• Beef Bend South of King City: 3,300 homes on 528 acres, and
• Frog Pond in Wilsonville: 1,325 homes on 271 acres.
The cities have assured Metro that approval would lead to new home construction within the next few years. Assurances have been made that they will be developed and additional steps will be taken to address any deficiencies and issues while building these new homes.
Unlike what happened with the expansion on the eastern boundary near Damascus fifteen years ago, where the land was not developed due to controversies about its future growth, the new policies will make it difficult to repeat that situation.
The various committees and advisory boards have reviewed all four proposals and the issues pro and con are documented in the 2018 Urban Growth Report. The need for inclusion of these properties indicated the favorable decision.
The Portland Metropolitan Home Builders Association, the City of Beaverton, King City, PGE, the Clackamas County Business Alliance, the Community Housing Fund, and the Westside Economic Alliance all supported these additions.
Over the years, 1000 Friends of Oregon, perhaps the most famous progressive land use advocate in Oregon, frequently is critical of attempts to expand the urban growth boundary. Many argue that there is no need to expand the boundary.
Often the proposed areas will be developed as subdivisions for single-family homes in the historic manner when there is need of higher densities that provide for the efficient use of the land and low cost housing.
If these areas are a great distance from jobs, businesses, schools, recreation, and services the residents will be dependent on automobiles as their primary form of transportation.
It is very likely that homes will be built for upper middle-income owners. This single-family development is the one of the most land intensive and expensive types of housing.
During the public testimony, critics brought up the subject that these parcels would just be more urban sprawl and that they would not be high quality development.
In the Cooper Mountain area, a resident was concerned because area homes were valued at above $700,000 and if affordable housing were built nearby, it would reduce surrounding property values. There were concerns expressed as well that rural roads would be overrun by auto traffic.
Along with everything else, these new additions must be able to help provide the regional need for more housing for those earning low incomes as well as for an aging population. The current housing market underserves both.
Through the revised review process these and future UGB additions to Metro demonstrate that they will effectively deal with the infrastructure and growth issues and contribute to the future additions to the region.