Read the recommendations
Bennett's recommendations begin the final phase of a process leading to a Metro Council decision this year about the urban growth boundary, which separates land targeted for development from working farms and forests. The recommendations were released today.
If the Metro Council accepts Bennett's recommendations, it would be the first time in the urban growth boundary's nearly 40-year history that it has not expanded during Metro's regular review cycles, which occur every several years.
Bennett highlights that fact as a symbol of the success of long-held regional and local plans to protect farm and forest lands and focus new growth in existing downtowns and transportation corridors.
"Plans and policies adopted at the regional and local levels…have provided the foundation for investment, and that investment is enabling us to manage growth as we have planned," Bennett writes.
At the same time, Bennett's recommendations recognize challenges inside the existing urban growth boundary. High residential demand and increasing housing prices are leading to a growing affordability crisis throughout the region, while some fret about whether there is sufficient land for employers to locate or grow inside the boundary.
But Bennett argues that local governments have zoned enough land that could help with these problems inside the urban growth boundary – if investments and partnerships can help clear the way for their development.
She for calls for cooperation between Metro, local and state governments, and the nonprofit and for-profit sectors on these lands, which include some previous urban growth boundary expansion areas, polluted brownfield sites throughout the region and vacant or underutilized properities along major transportation corridors.
Report finds no need for expansion to absorb growth
Bennett's recommendations are based on the draft 2014 Urban Growth Report, released a year ago. The report compared forecasts of the region's expected population and employment growth over the next 20 years with inventories of land that's available and likely to develop, based on the local plans adopted by the region's 25 cities and three counties.
Under Oregon law, Metro must complete such an analysis every six years to determine whether an urban growth boundary expansion is needed
The draft report found no need to expand the urban growth boundary for expected new housing or job growth. The Metro Council accepted the draft as a basis for discussion in December 2014, and would adopt a final version as part of its urban growth boundary decision this year.
The draft report highlighted two trends contributing to a historic housing shift both in the region and nationally: smaller households that earn less money and have less need or financial ability to live in the kind of single-family houses that have dominated American metropolitan growth for decades.
That, in turn, is at least partially responsible for the report's prediction that the share of the region's housing supply in single-family houses will shift from roughly two-thirds today to sixty percent by 2035. Most new housing built in the region over the next twenty years will be in apartments and condos, the report predicts.
In her recommendations to the Metro Council, Bennett accepts the urban growth report's forecasts as reliable – which has been true of previous Metro housing and job forecasts.
But she notes that some of the contributing trends are a concern for many people in the region. "The public, stakeholders and regional elected leaders have expressed concern about the future our region faces if these two trends continue," Bennett writes. "I recommend that the Council view these trends as a call to action."
Other recommendations: Finish reserves before revisiting boundary
What about Damascus?
A key question through the last year has been what to make of development potential in Damascus, the Clackamas County city home to thousands of acres added to the urban growth boundary in 2002. Those acres have remained in limbo because of local political battles that have kept the city from adopting a comprehensive plan.
At joint work session in May, members of the Damascus City Council told the Metro Council that residents are likely to vote for disincorporation later this year. However, many expect that the most development-ready portions of the city, along its western edge, will annex to nearby Happy Valley and develop within a 20-year timeframe.
In an appendix, Metro staff analyze such a scenario, finding little to no impact on the Urban Growth Report's overall predictions about housing and job growth and land needs in the region as a whole.
Some have argued that the recent boom in apartment construction in the region is a post-Recession anomaly, potentially skewing forecasts about future residential growth.
In response, Bennett calls for close tracking of regional housing and employment trends. She also requests another review of the urban growth boundary in three years, instead of the six Oregon law requires.
But first, she says, Metro must work with Clackamas and Multnomah counties to finalize those counties' urban and rural reserves, a map of where growth can and cannot occur through 2060.
A reserves map was adopted by Metro and the region's three counties in 2011, but appeals from both pro-conservation and pro-development advocates have kept the map from final status. The Oregon Legislature finalized Washington County's reserves in 2014 through the so-called "land use grand bargain" but left Clackamas and Multnomah counties' reserves unresolved.
The unsettled state of reserves meant that even if the Metro Council found a need to expand the urban growth boundary this year, it might not have anywhere to go.
When those reserves are finalized, Bennett recommends, the region should also start a conversation about changing how regional urban growth boundary expansions are considered, to better match regional priorities with local preparedness for growth.
Bennett's recommendations begin a final phase of an urban growth management process that began with public engagement in late 2013, and continued with a year of discussion following the release of the Urban Growth Report last July.
Metro councilors discuss the recommendations at their July 28 work session, beginning a timeline of several months that will include public hearings this fall and discussion by local elected leaders that sit on the Metro Policy Advisory Committee, or MPAC. A timeline included in Bennett's recommendations anticipates a final Metro Council decision in mid-November.