1973 to 2005
Under Oregon’s land use planning system, Metro maintains the urban growth boundary for the Portland metropolitan region. The boundary is a line that separates urban communities from rural lands. Prior to the existing urban and rural reserve designation process, Metro would determine every five years whether additional acreage was needed to maintain a 20-year supply of land to accommodate projected population and employment growth.
In the former system, when considering a boundary expansion, Metro was required by state land use laws to consider soil quality above everything else. The system provided a way to decide where not to develop. While protecting high quality farm soils is important, the system didn’t provide a method for determining ideal locations and conditions for developing urban communities.
It also stymied development: every five years residents wrestled with identifying areas for urban expansion. Landowners at the edge of the boundary were in perpetual limbo, unsure whether or when their lands might targeted for urbanization. It also made it difficult to invest in communities.
After the last UGB decision in 2005, the region’s leaders proposed a solution.
Before determining the right approach to long term land use and protection, Metro joined Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties, the Department of Land Conservation and Development, and the Department of Agriculture in conducting a study of lands surrounding the existing Portland metropolitan area UGB. They asked:
- What factors affect the ability of an area to successfully conduct commercial agricultural operations over an extended period? Which lands surrounding the existing boundary meet these criteria?
- Which natural landscape features surrounding the existing urban growth boundary are most important in terms of ecological function or most influence our sense of place and should define our urban form?
- What are attributes of great communities and the most important considerations for effective urbanization?
The results of these studies formed the basis for Senate Bill 1011.
Senate Bill 1011, enacted by the 2007 Oregon Legislature, allows the Portland region to consider where to urbanize based on a broad set of factors. It created a process for designating lands as rural or urban reserves.
The designation of rural reserves provides a means of protecting from urban development:
- the most valuable and financially viable farms and commercial forests
- significant natural features like wetlands, rivers and their floodplains, buttes and savannas.
Soil quality, unlike the previous system, is not the only determinant of whether a land is developable.
With the rural reserves designation, the bill also provides a legal mechanism to protect farms, forests and natural landscape features from encroachment of urbanization for the long term.
SB 1011 created a process for designating reserves simultaneously through agreements between Metro and counties. In this process, representatives of diverse interests—developers, farmers, foresters, social and environmental advocates and local governments—make recommendations to Metro and the three counties.
The counties and Metro must coordinate their reserves designation process with the region’s cities, special districts, school districts and state agencies, and they must also engage the public in a coordinated process reviewed by the State of Oregon.
Metro still considers the residential and employment needs of the region’s residents every five years to ensure a 20-year supply of buildable land, but the focus is on lands that have already been designated as urban reserves.
The reserves process was launched early in the year. The Reserves Steering Committee and county advisory committees were established to represent regional and local interests.
Seven open houses were sponsored by the counties and Metro to share information about the new land designation process and to ask residents to help define the area to study. More than 300 people attended.
In April, Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties proposed lands suitable for urban or rural reserves. The counties and Metro hosted eight public open houses where people viewed candidate area maps, heard presentations and shared their views.
On Sept. 1, Metro's chief operating officer Michael Jordan released his recommendation to the Metro Council on how the region should manage growth and achieve long term sustainability and prosperity over the next decades.
Metro hosted open houses and hearings and online surveys providing residents of the region the opportunity to comment on his recommendation and advise the Metro Council regarding key decisions coming this fall on land use as well as transportation.
After nearly two years of meetings and community input, on Oct. 14 the regional Reserves Steering Committee made its formal recommendations to the Core 4 (Metro and the three counties), based upon recommendations from regional interests:
On Dec. 16 the Core 4 approved a map of proposed urban reserves, proposed rural reserves and options areas.
During an 11-day period in January, six public open houses were held; 850 residents attended, and more than 400 completed all or part of a questionnaire either at the open houses or online. Also during that period, the Metro Council held four public hearings around the region; 237 people signed up to speak at them.
Generally, respondents expressed their desire to maintain or increase rural reserve areas, not add urban areas, or do so only after developing land already inside the urban growth boundary, and protect farmland, forests and natural areas that cannot be replaced once they are gone.
In May and June the boards of commissioners for Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties and the Metro Council passed legislation to establish urban and rural reserves. The designation process required that each of the four governments pass an ordinance to modify existing plans and maps.
In October the ordinances, plan changes and maps were reviewed by the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission. The commission accepted the urban and rural reserves designated for Clackamas and Multnomah counties but asked officials from Metro and Washington County to reconsider the urban and rural reserves designated in that county.
The Metro Council and Washington County Board of Commissioners adopted new ordinances, plan changes and maps in April and submitted them to the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission for review and acknowledgement. In August, the commission acknowledged the revised designations of urban and rural reserves in Washington County and formally acknowledged the urban and rural reserves in Clackamas and Multnomah counties that it had accepted earlier.