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Shaping the region for 50 years

Planning and conservation    Regional planning and policy    urban growth management    Urban and rural reserves    Reserves overview

What are urban and rural reserves? Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties and Metro led a regional process to identify land for future urban development and protect farms, forests and natural areas for the next half century.

It isn’t hard to figure out why we love the Portland metro region. Through shrewd planning and a love of place we’ve kept nature close to home and country close to city. In 2010 and 2011, the region's leaders made important long term decisions that will determine the shape and size of cities, towns and rural landscapes for years to come.

In 2010 and 2011, the elected governing bodies of Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties and Metro entered into agreements that determine the location and scale of urban development for the next 50 years. These same agreements determine which natural features are protected from development and which lands the region believes are most valuable maintained as farms and forests over that same time period.

A new approach to managing growth in our region

Across the region, civic leaders engaged in a collaborative planning process to consider the shape of our region over the next several decades. Citizens and officials worked in concert to craft policies and choose investments that will enhance existing communities. As part of this work, Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties and Metro led a regional effort to identify land for urban or rural use for the next half century.

Under the Oregon land use system, Metro maintains the urban growth boundary (often referred to as the UGB) surrounding the Portland metropolitan area. This line encircling the region separates urban communities from rural lands. Every five years Metro determines whether additional acreage is needed to maintain a 20-year supply of land to accommodate projected population and employment growth and expands the boundary when necessary to respond to that need.

Under this longstanding system, every five years the citizens of the region wrestled with identifying areas for urban expansion. This system kept landowners at the edge of the boundary in limbo, never knowing whether or when their lands might be destined for urbanization. It also made it difficult to invest in our communities. After the last urban growth boundary decision, the region’s leaders proposed a solution.

As a result, in 2007, the Oregon Legislature approved Senate Bill 1011. This legislation enabled the region to identify and designate areas outside the current urban growth boundary that are best suited for future housing and employment as urban reserves. SB 1011 also provided a new opportunity to identify areas that should remain working farms and forests or natural areas for the next 40 to 50 years.

Senate Bill 1011 provided some flexibility to Metro and the three metropolitan area counties to determine the length of time the reserves designations will be in effect – between 40 and 50 years. The four governments agreed to 50 years, ending in 2060.
Learn about Senate Bill 1011

What makes this system better?

In the past, when considering expanding the boundary, Metro was required by state land use laws to consider the quality of the soil above everything else. Protecting high quality farm soils is important and that system provided a way to decide where not to develop. But it didn’t provide a method for determining ideal locations and conditions for developing healthy vibrant urban communities. For the first time the region has a formal method for considering what makes a good site for a city.

At the same time, the designation of rural reserves provided a means for protecting the region’s most valuable and financially viable farms and commercial forests. This designation can also be used to protect significant natural features like wetlands, rivers and their floodplains, buttes and savannas from urban development.

Instead of starting from scratch every five years to consider whether and how to expand the urban footprint, the reserves process provided a common sense approach and a greater certainty for local governments, businesses and rural landowners.

Metro will still consider the residential and employment needs of its citizens every five years and make sure there is a 20-year supply of buildable land, but in the future, the focus of that consideration will be on lands designated as urban reserves.

What are urban and rural reserves?

Urban reserves are lands currently outside the urban growth boundary that are suitable for accommodating urban development over the next 50 years. Rural reserves are lands outside the current urban growth boundary that are high value working farms and forests or have important natural features like rivers, wetlands, buttes and floodplains. These areas will be protected from urbanization for the next 50 years.

These land use designations do not change current zoning or restrict landowners' currently allowed use of their lands. They do provide greater clarity regarding the long term expected use of the land and allow both public and private landowners to make long term investments with greater assurance.

Metro reached agreements with each county on which lands across the region will be designated as urban and rural reserves. The Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission gave final approval to the urban and rural reserves designated in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties in August 2011.

View Core 4 video about urban and rural reserves (10 min)

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