The Portland region's growth management system could get an unprecedented level of flexibility, if the Legislature approves a plan proposed by a growth management task force on Wednesday.
The proposal would allow the Metro Council to authorize small UGB expansions every six years, midway through the council's broader review of growth in greater Portland.
Metro is required to do a comprehensive look at growth in greater Portland every six years; the last review was in 2015. After that review is complete, the council has to decide whether there's enough land in the urban growth boundary to accommodate 20 years of growth.
If the council expands the boundary, it has to do so in the land best suited for expansion, with the criteria for making that decision spelled out in state law.
That's forced the council to expand the boundary in areas that are years from being ready for new homes, even while other areas could have dirt turned on development sooner.
The new proposal would allow the Metro Council to add up to 1,000 acres to the urban growth boundary midway through those six-year comprehensive reviews, without having to thoroughly review all 24,000-plus acres of urban reserves as potential UGB expansion candidates.
The task force was convened by Metro Council President Tom Hughes, in response to requests from cities that the Metro Council needed more flexibility in managing the region's urban growth boundary. Many UGB expansion areas have languished without new development for a variety of reasons, including expensive pipes, roads, parks and schools and failed governance; meanwhile, other areas next to the UGB appear ready to support new development but can't get through the regulatory hurdles needed to justify an expansion.
In Wilsonville, city leaders say a 300-acre expansion would bring about enough development to help pay for the pipes, roads, parks and schools needed to serve another undeveloped area that's already in the urban growth boundary.
The task force's proposal would immediately benefit cities like Wilsonville and Sherwood, both of which are seeking expansions of 300 and 150 acres, respectively, for areas that could be developed relatively quickly.
The 1,000-acre number – an area about the size of downtown Portland between the Willamette River and Interstate 405 – was a compromise for a task force which has representatives from groups ranging from homebuilders to land conservation advocates to Clackamas County Chair John Ludlow, who generally opposes Metro's growth management policies.
Jason Miner, the director of 1000 Friends of Oregon, said he preferred a mid-review cap of 900 acres. He said it's easy to think 900 acres is a small number compared to the larger portions proposed by some task force members, but he said, that is a matter of perspective.
"When we look at numbers compared to zero, it looks large," Miner said.
But the homebuilders and others pointed out that a 1,000 acre expansion doesn't result in 1,000 acres of new homes. The Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland released maps showing how the 1,300-acre area west of Sherwood could have as few as 465 acres of new homes, once land for streams, roads, schools and parks was taken out.
Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-Deremer suggested going beyond 1,000 acres, to allow for more net developable acreage.
"Some areas could be up to 60 percent (undevelopable) depending on a lot of factors," Chavez-Deremer said. "Why not go up to 1,500 gross? We might use none of it, we might use it all."
Carrie MacLaren, deputy director of the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, warned that such a large bite of the apple might appear too ambitious for state legislators. She said anything that would involve using up to one-third of the region's urban reserves would be too much for Salem. The 24,000 acres of urban reserves are the areas Metro is supposed to target for UGB expansions through 2060 – not just for housing, but also for jobs.
"You've got to think about the commitments that have been made in this region and the paradigm in which you're working," MacLaren said.
If the Metro Council used this new authority to add all 1,000 acres at every mid-cycle point through 2060, it would use less than 29 percent of the urban reserves.
At the end of the meeting, a facilitator asked members whether they had reached consensus on the 1,000-acre proposal. That didn't mean they had to love it, but that they would at best support it and at worst not oppose it in the upcoming legislature.
Every member of the task force put their thumbs up.
The task force is scheduled to meet again in January to review potential legislation and continue discussing what factors the Metro Council could use in deciding where to expand the boundary.
Clarification: This post has been updated to paraphrase a quote from 1000 Friends of Oregon director Jason Miner. The quote, without the context of the discussion at the meeting, is inaccurate. The paraphrased quote includes the context of the discussion at the time.