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Beaverton, King City, Sherwood among area cities asking for an expansion of the growth boundary.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Beaverton wants to development the rest of the South Cooper Mountain urban reserve area where a new high school has opened and multiple subdivisions are being built.With the Portland area facing a severe housing shortage, Beaverton and four other cities intend to ask the Metro Council to increase the urban growth boundary it administers, to allow more room for development.

Other cities are Hillsboro, King City, Sherwood and Wilsonville. Together, they are asking for a combined 2,817 more acres for new development. They have all expressed their intentions in letters sent to the elected regional government as part of its formal review of the existing boundary — commonly called the UGB — this year.

The UGB is the invisible border around Portland and its 23 suburbs, beyong which urban services are not allowed. It was created in the early 1970s to protect Oregon's forest and farmland from urban sprawl.

The cities say the expansions could accommodate up to 9,669 new homes over the next 20 years, along with parks, pedestrian and bike paths, public facilities and retail sites. Most would result in complete new neighborhoods, the letters say.

King City even says its request also would result in a new Town Center with three- to five-story buildings, restaurants and other gathering spots, and a new City Hall.

The deadline for submitting formal requests is May 31. The elected Metro Council is scheduled to decide whether and where to expand the UGB in December. SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO - Wilsonville hopes a UGB expansion in the Frog Pond South area could open up room for two new neighborhoods and as many as 1,322 new homes.

All of the potential expansions are within urban reserves previously approved by Metro and the state Land Conservation and Development Commission for potential future development over the next 50 years. They would consume a little more than 10 percent of existing reserves. About 269,000 acres have been designated as rural reserves that cannot be developed for 50 years.

Room for growth

Oregon land use laws require the UGB to always contain enough developable land to accommodate 20 years of projected population and employment growth. The area within the boundary contained about 259,000 acres in 2015, and a population of nearly 1.6 million people. The population within the boundary is estimated to increase to almost 2 million people by 2035.

Metro staff is currently working on an Urban Growth Report that will say whether the UGB needs to be expanded or not — and, if so, where and how much. It will include updated population projections.

The report is scheduled to be released by the end of June. The Metro Council is then expected to make a preliminary decision and direct the staff to finalize its work in September.

Affordable housing crisis grows

The last time the Metro Council reviewed the urban growth boundary was in 2015. At the end of the year, the council decided that the boundary did not need to be expanded, in large part because Portland had enough zoned capacity for new multifamily housing to accommodate almost everyone expected to move to the region over the next 20 years.

But the decision was controversial, with local home builders and others arguing that many if not most people eventually want to live in single-family homes — and that a shortage of single-family homes was on the horizon. Although the council would not have normally reviewed the UGB again for another six years, it promised to conduct the next review in three years, which is why it is happening now instead of in 2021.

A lot has happened since then. Economists, planners and other experts all agree the region has an affordable housing crisis, caused in large part by a severe shortage of all kinds of housing. The problem is widely believed to be a major factor behind the growing homeless crisis.

Ironically, the Portland City Council declared the first of three year-long housing states of emergency in October 2015, just two months before the Metro decision. Few leaders in the region seemed to fully understand how dire the situation was becoming at the time.

Over the next two years, Portland and Multnomah County created a Joint Office on Homelessness and committed tens of millions of additional dollars to create more homeless services, emergency shelter space and affordable housing. Portland voters approved a $285.4 million affordable housing bond in November 2016. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and legislative leaders have declared creating more affordable housing to be a top state priority.

Even Metro is getting involved in the affordable housing issue. Although it has long required jurisdictions to include such housing in their growth plans, Metro launched its own Equitable Housing Initiative led by Councilor Sam Chase several years ago. The council is now considering placing a regional affordable housing bond measure on the November 2018 general election ballot. It is currently estimated at $500 million.

All this does not mean the Metro Council will automatically approve the expansion requests by December. It could still decide that cities in the region could do more to create additional housing on their existing land, including the five cities preparing the expansion requests.

New UGB expansion requirements

This year's urban growth boundary review also imposes new requirements on jurisdictions seeking expansions. In the past, the Metro Council approved numerous expansions that seemed justified but did not result in any development, even after many years, because of a lack of infrastructure funding or other issues.

Largely because of that, the council voted late last year to require jurisdictions to demonstrate that development could at least begin in their proposed expansion areas within five years. Among other things, the request must be accompanied by approved concept plans with design details and funding strategies. All of the letters of intent said such plans have been adopted for their requested expansion areas.

The Metro Council also is asking jurisdictions to explain why such growth cannot take place within the existing boundary, especially in designated centers and along transportation corridors. Those are the areas Metro said such growth should be concentrated, in the 2040 Growth Concept it first adopted in 1995. Those issues are expected to be addressed in the formal requests to be submitted by May 31.

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