If we expand, where should we grow?
That's the question before the region's elected officials and other leaders that have now heard proposals from the four cities asking the Metro Council to expand the urban growth boundary.
Beaverton, Hillsboro, King City and Wilsonville have submitted proposals that together would expand greater Portland's urban footprint by 2,181 acres with hopes for developing about 9,200 homes in those areas.
Beaverton and Wilsonville were the last two cities to go before the Metro Council and Metro Policy Advisory Committee to share their visions for their proposed expansion areas. Hillsboro and King City presented earlier in the month.
The aim is to familiarize the councilors and MPAC members about where and how these four communities plan to expand into new areas, if such a need is called for. MPAC is expected to make a recommendation to the Metro Council in September, and the seven-member elected governing body will then have the final say.
Beaverton sees reserve as 'missing puzzle piece'
Beaverton, the state's sixth-largest city, is looking to expand into the 1,242-acre urban reserve area near Cooper Mountain.
It's an area that city planning division manager Anna Slatinsky called the "missing puzzle piece" between North Cooper Mountain, a 510-acre area that's inside the UGB but still in unincorporated Washington County, and South Cooper Mountain, a 544-acre area that was annexed into the city in 2012 and is being developed at a fast pace.
"Can the northern area and southern area be developed without the urban reserve? They can, but there are pretty significant efficiencies to being able to connect across those areas with transportation connectivity, infrastructure and housing," she told the Metro Council during its work session June 19.
Only about 600 acres of the reserve area is developable because of Cooper Mountain Nature Park and the surrounding creeks and wetlands that cover a large central portion of the area. The concept plan calls for as many as 3,760 housing units with a mix of single-family homes, townhomes and apartments.
Councilor Betty Dominguez asked about which income levels would be served by the proposed 290 multifamily housing units. The issue of affordable housing was also brought up during the MPAC meeting June 27.
Slatinksy said that if there are any affordable housing units in the reserve area, they would most likely be targeted at people making between 50 and 100 percent of area median income since the lack of transit access would make it harder for lower-income families who don't have a car.
"We can hope that public transportation will come in the future, but at the moment, we need to be realistic about the type of environment that we'd be placing low-income families in," she said. "It doesn't do them any good to be stranded in a place where they don't have access to jobs and where they're reliant on a car when they can't afford one."
Councilor Sam Chase cautioned that there are people whose income is between 30 and 60 percent AMI but still rely on cars to travel between their multiple jobs.
"I don't want to exclude a population of folks that is very important and I see these areas as very important to thinking proactively around affordable housing and how we can integrate it into these areas," he said. "If we wait until an area gets more developed, then it gets harder to put affordable housing in there."
Council President Tom Hughes asked about infrastructure financing. He said system development charges, which most cities rely on to fund new infrastructure, have a profound impact on housing affordability, and he questioned whether city officials have considered other financing mechanisms such as urban renewal.
Slatinsky said the city is open to exploring all options.
"We do try to be creative and realistic about how much those things cost," she said. "It's a real challenge paying for development."
In response to a question about why the city wants to expand there and now, Slatinsky said that the reserve is part of the city's long-term plan to have land available for when it's needed since the opportunity to add an area of this size to the UGB only comes once every six years.
"Given that we think there's real value to planning comprehensively, we thought it was important to bring this proposal forward now so we could do that planning in a responsible way," she said. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the world is going to end if Beaverton can't add the urban reserve, but we may be in more trouble in five to 10 years than we might have otherwise. We're trying to think ahead, plan ahead and make sure we're doing the groundwork."
John Griffiths, a Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District board member who represents special districts on MPAC, said the inclusion of the reserve into the UGB would help the district and Metro acquire the remaining land needed to complete Cooper Mountain Nature Park, which is about halfway to its 500-acre goal. Griffiths said property owners in the reserve have been reluctant to sell while their land remained outside the UGB.
"Land transactions have been frozen until Metro brings this property into the UGB," he said. "When that happens, things are going to be set into motion. … In order to complete the park, we fundamentally need to protect those riparian acres, but also make sure there's a path out of the area that has been brought into the UGB for wildlife to migrate back out into the rural areas."
Mark Watson, a Hillsboro School District board member who represents school boards on MPAC, questioned why the densest parts of the concept plan — east of SW Grabhorn Road and north of SW Tile Flat Road — would be across the street from a picturesque rural reserve area.
Slatinsky said the city looked at density through a number of lenses, including the desired mix of housing types, potential transportation routes and topography where it would be most efficient to build denser neighborhoods.
"I hear you that there's farmland across the street, but I think that's OK," she said.
Wilsonville hoping third time's a charm
Wilsonville is back before the Metro Council for a third time with its request to add 275 acres on the city's east side after two previous attempts in 2011 and 2014.
The city envisions creating two new walkable neighborhoods known as Frog Pond East and South. The urban reserve is adjacent to Frog Pond West, which was added to the UGB in 2002 and is expected to begin construction this summer.
The expansion area would add another 1,325 homes to the area and include a mix of housing types and prices. The area would also be home to two schools (Meridian Creek Middle School, which opened last fall, and a future elementary school), four parks, trails and a neighborhood commercial center.
Mayor Tim Knapp said that while some UGB expansion areas have been slow to develop, Wilsonville has a proven track record of success with its nearly built-out development of Villebois. Development of the Coffee Creek and Basalt Creek industrial areas are also moving forward.
"If you favor us with this expansion, I don't think you'll have to worry about whether or not this area will get built and utilized," he said. "I can promise you that it will."
Chase asked about the job-housing balance and how city officials know there is a market for people to both live and work in Wilsonville. Currently, the city of 24,000 is home to more than 800 businesses that employ 21,000 people, most of whom commute from elsewhere.
"You can't make people live in any one place, but if you don't provide an opportunity for them to decide to live close to their job, then they certainly won't," Knapp said. "As our transportation system becomes congested and as the cost of driving a car becomes greater, I think the curve bends toward that happening more."
King City Councilor Gretchen Buehner, who sits on MPAC, asked whether there are any plans to incorporate senior housing as the suburbs see more older residents.
Chris Neamtzu, Wilsonville's planning director, said the city hasn't done outreach yet, but it's something it hopes to have conversations about.
Another question was asked about the difference between system development charges and a supplemental infrastructure fee, something Wilsonville is using in Frog Pond West and has plans to use in the expansion area.
Neamtzu explained that while SDCs are tied to specific projects, Wilsonville created a laundry list of larger-scale projects and a single bucket of funding that would be raised through supplemental fees.
"As the bucket fills up as homes get built, the city can use that money to build any one of those projects on the infrastructure list," he said. "Rather than taking a small amount of money and putting it in the parks bucket or transportation bucket and having to wait a significant period of time for those resources to build up in order to build something, creating a single project list and single bucket allows resources to come in a little more quickly."
Hughes complimented the Wilsonville leaders on their presentation and level of detail in their proposal, despite this being the third time.
"I thought you brought nuanced changes to the program and expanded and refined on what you plan on doing," he said. "It kept the same basic format when you came to us a long time ago, but you got a much better program now for analyzing and explaining the data to us that I think we've all benefited from the time."
Copies of the cities' proposals are available on Metro's website and the public is invited to provide feedback about the plans through Monday, July 9.