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Urban growth boundary

Planning and conservation    Regional planning and policy    urban growth management    Urban growth boundary

Metro manages the urban growth boundary for the Portland metropolitan area. Learn about this important land use planning tool for protecting rural lands and focusing investment in existing downtowns, main streets and employment areas.


On Feb. 20, 2014, a ruling from the Oregon Court of Appeals changed some of the urban and rural reserves designated by Metro and the three counties in 2010 and 2011. This ruling also affected the urban growth boundary adjustment made by the Metro Council in 2011.

On April 1, 2014, Governor Kitzhaber signed House Bill 4078 which established new urban and rural reserves and adjusted the urban growth boundary in Washington County. The bill did not resolve concerns raised by the Court of Appeals about a proposed rural reserve in western Multnomah County and a proposed urban reserve in the Stafford area of Clackamas County.

Under Oregon law, each city or metropolitan area in the state has an urban growth boundary that separates urban land from rural land. Metro is responsible for managing the Portland metropolitan region's urban growth boundary.

What is an urban growth boundary?

The boundary controls urban expansion onto farm and forest lands. Land inside the urban growth boundary supports urban services such as roads, water and sewer systems, parks, schools and fire and police protection that create thriving places to live, work and play. The urban growth boundary is one of the tools used to protect farms and forests from urban sprawl and to promote the efficient use of land, public facilities and services inside the boundary.

Metro's role

Metro is responsible for managing the Portland metropolitan area 's urban growth boundary and is required by state law to have a 20-year supply of land for future residential development inside the boundary. Every five years, the Metro Council is required to conduct a review of the land supply and, if necessary, expand the boundary to meet that requirement. This is called the urban growth management process. When undertaking this review, Metro also considers needs for future jobs in the region during this same 20-year period. The current urban growth boundary encompasses approximately 400 square miles. As of 2012, about 1.5 million people lived within the urban growth boundary.

Learn more about the urban growth management process

The origins of Metro's urban growth boundary

The Columbia Region Association of Governments, Metro's predecessor, engaged in a complete planning process and proposed an urban growth boundary for the region in 1977. When Metro was created by voters in 1979, it inherited the boundary planning effort. A year later, the Land Conservation and Development Commission approved the boundary as consistent with statewide planning goals.

The location of the Metro urban growth boundary involved more than simply drawing a line on a map. The plans and growth projections of Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas counties, along with 25 cities and more than 60 special service districts had to be accommodated. The initial urban growth boundary was based on a projection of the need for urban land as well as the land development plans of individual property owners.

Expanding the urban growth boundary

The urban growth boundary was not intended to be static. Since the late 1970s, the boundary has been moved about three dozen times. Most of those moves were small – 20 acres or less. There have been other times when the Metro Council approved larger, legislative additions:

  • In 1998, about 3,500 acres were added to make room for approximately 23,000 housing units and 14,000 jobs. Acreage included areas around the Dammasch state hospital site near Wilsonville, the Pleasant Valley area in east Multnomah, the Sunnyside Road area in Clackamas County, and a parcel of land south of Tualatin.
  • In 1999, another 380 acres were added based on the concept of "subregional need." An example of "subregional need" would occur when a community needed land to balance the number of homes with the number of jobs available in that area.
  • In 2002, 18,867 acres were added to the urban growth boundary to provide 38,657 housing units and 2,671 acres for additional jobs. This action also created regional policies to support neighborhoods, protect industrial areas and enhance regional and town centers. These expansions represented an increase of only about 9 percent, even though our population has increased by about 17 percent since 1990.
  • In 2004, 1,956 acres were added to the boundary to address the need for industrial lands identified as part of the 2002 planning process.
  • In 2005, the Metro Council added 345 acres of land for industrial purposes which will complete the 2002 planning process.
  • In 2011, the Metro Council added 1,985 acres to the boundary to help address the anticipated 20-year need for new housing and jobs.

Learn more about the 2011 urban growth management decision

Urban growth boundary expansion history map from 1978 through 2012

Related documents

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more about the urban growth boundary

Guidelines for bringing land into the urban growth boundary

State law defines the criteria that are used to determine the order in which lands are included within the urban growth boundary. In general, high priority lands must be included before lower priority lands can be added.

Types of urban growth boundary amendments

The urban growth boundary is dynamic and can be changed by conducting any of three types of amendments: legislative, major or minor.

Urban growth boundary lookup tool

Enter an address or intersection to see a map that shows whether a property is inside the urban growth boundary or within an urban or rural reserve.

Urban growth boundary versus the Metro boundary

The urban growth boundary and the Metro jurisdictional boundary are not the same line. Some areas are inside the urban growth boundary but outside the Metro boundary, and some areas are inside the Metro boundary but outside the urban growth boundary.

2015 growth management decision

Every five years Metro assesses the capacity of the region's urban growth boundary to accommodate population growth. Learn about the milestones and timeline for the Metro Council's next growth management decision, anticipated at the end of 2015.

2011 growth management decision

Learn more about the Metro Council's decision to support good jobs, protect farmland and invest in our region's future.

Urban and rural reserves

Read about the unique collaborative process the region used to choose the best places for future growth, identifying lands that won't be urbanized for the next 50 years as well as areas best suited to accommodate future urban development.

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urban growth boundary

Address lookup tool

Enter any address in an online lookup tool and find out if it is inside or outside the urban growth boundary or within an urban or rural reserve. Go

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