Metro chief operating officer Martha Bennett recommended that the Metro Council add four areas to the region’s urban growth boundary this year, saying all four have the potential to rapidly develop into successful communities.
The four areas, near Hillsboro, Beaverton, King City and Wilsonville, all have development challenges. But all four cities, Bennett said, have shown that they have plans to pay for the pipes, roads, parks and schools needed for new housing to be built.
“These cities have demonstrated governance, infrastructure and market factors that will lead to housing development,” Bennett said. “All four cities are working to reduce barriers to development in their existing urban areas and seeking to improve their engagement with diverse communities.”
Any decision on whether, and where, to expand the urban growth boundary would be made by the Metro Council by the end of this year.
Coping with the costs of new construction
The Metro Council has been grappling for years with ways to make greenfield development more feasible. Many historic urban growth boundary expansions have not actually led to new construction, in large part because of the tremendous expense of the pipes, roads, parks and schools needed to serve any new urban area.
Many of those costs were historically covered by the federal government, but Washington has been disinvesting in local infrastructure projects for decades. In Oregon, many of those costs have instead been passed through to developers, and ultimately homebuyers.
As an example, King City’s proposal calls for $88 million in pipes, parks and main roads, a number that doesn’t include costs for new schools or local streets. Their proposal calls for around $34,000 in development fees per new home, with lower costs for more inexpensive housing. The city has sketched out a systems charge of $48,000 per 1,000 square foot of new commercial space.
To account for the increasing expense of building new housing, the 2018 review of the greater Portland urban growth boundary marks a dramatic change from past reviews. Reforms to state land use laws gave Metro increased flexibility to choose where to expand the urban growth boundary, and what criteria to use when deciding where to expand.
Key changes in this year’s review include a decision from the Metro Council to ask cities to talk about their efforts to engage diverse communities in growth decisions. The council has also asked cities to spell out their plans to increase the supply of affordable housing in their communities. While greenfields on the region’s urban edge might not be the easiest place to increase housing affordability, other areas within cities, particularly in transit corridors, could increase their supply of affordable housing near suburban employment areas.
“Beaverton has demonstrated its commitment to removing barriers to development in its downtown. With Metro grant assistance, the city is embarking on an anti-displacement housing strategy,” Bennett wrote. “With its diverse population and commitment to equity, the city’s work on this program is essential.”
In the recommendation, Bennett also called on cities to allow more types of housing in their expansion areas. She called on cities to encourage construction of accessory dwelling units in expansion areas, including removing legal barriers to construction of ADUs in new communities.
Around 9,200 new homes planned in four cities
Beaverton’s proposal includes new development on the south side of Cooper Mountain, where Metro operates a large nature park. Development is already proceeding at an earlier UGB expansion to the south of the proposed expansion area. The success of getting construction started in short order was one of the reasons Bennett recommended granting an expansion near Beaverton.
Beaverton / Cooper Mountain
1,242 acres, 3,760 homes
Hillsboro / Witch Hazel South
150 acres, 850 homes
King City / Beef Bend South
528 acres, 3,300 homes
Wilsonville / Frog Pond
271 acres, 1,325 homes
The Beaverton expansion could have at least 3,700 homes.
Hillsboro asked for a small expansion near Witch Hazel Road, which Bennett also recommended for approval. It would include at least 850 homes.
In Clackamas County, Wilsonville requested an expansion on the city’s northwest end. This new development would have at least 1,325 homes, and also create development efficiencies in other greenfield areas nearby that were already added to the urban growth boundary.
Wilsonville has sought the expansion for years, but legal challenges to the region’s groundbreaking urban reserves plan prevented Metro from being able to grant an expansion request. Those challenges were settled in 2017, finally opening the area up for potential expansion.
The most ambitious expansion proposal came from King City, once a sleepy retirement community alongside Highway 99W that is now looking to refresh its image.
King City would more than double from the 460 acres within the city limits today. About 400 of those could be developed, with around 3,300 new homes.
In its proposal, King City leaders said they want to build a new business district and town center west of the already-developed area. They pointed to the city’s commitment to affordability, particularly for seniors, and diversity, noting that King City Mayor Ken Gibson is the only black mayor in Oregon, and that city councilors Chi Nguyen-Ventura and Smart Ocholi are immigrants to the United States, from Vietnam and Nigeria, respectively.
In her recommendation, Bennett recommended the Metro Council give King City a grant to assist in preparing for development in its expansion area. She also recommended that King City leaders consider more townhomes, duplexes and other single-family attached housing in their plans, finish their transportation planning efforts and continue to support construction of manufactured housing.
A 20-year land supply
Under Oregon’s land use laws, each city manages its own urban growth boundary – except in the greater Portland area, which shares a boundary because of the regional nature of the economy and development. The Metro Council is required to keep 20 years of developable land in the boundary.
The Metro Council’s decision is reviewed by state regulators, who consider appeals from parties who feel Metro added too little, too much or the wrong land to the boundary. The state regulators’ review can then be reviewed by the state Court of Appeals and Oregon Supreme Court.
Typically, Metro reviews the urban growth boundary every six years, and the next review is scheduled for 2024. But reforms to state regulations last year allow the Metro Council to make a “quick” addition of up to 1,000 acres to the urban growth boundary in 2021, in case a city has land that becomes ready for development in the next three years.
The last review was in 2015, when the Metro Council added no land to the urban growth boundary in anticipation of a nationwide boom in apartment construction. Advocates of single-family homes asked Metro to re-evaluate greater Portland’s growth in 2018 in case the apartment building bubble burst.
While the multifamily development trend has continued, more of the region’s single-family inventory has been used thanks to rapid development in areas like North Bethany and Villebois. That, Bennett said, has created the need for more land for growth, so that Metro can meet its state requirement for 20 years of land.