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Portland considers controversial planning grant

The City Council will consider accepting a Metro grant that has proven controversial in the past to improve access to the southern end of the growing South Waterfront neighborhood.

On Wednesday the council will consider whether to offer $50,000 to match a $250,000 Metro Construction Excise Tax Planning grant. If approved, the money will be used to contract with DKS Associates for development of the South Portal Partnership Project to improve transportation options into South Waterfront from the south.

Metro approved the small excise tax with the support of the Home Builders of Metropolitan Portland seven years ago. It amounts to $240 on a new home with $200,000 in improvements and generated $2.4 million in the region in the last fiscal year.

When the tax was approved, the HBA thought that most if not all of the money raised by the tax would be spent to help plan properties that had been brought into the Urban Growth Boundary administered by Metro but not yet developed. Instead, Metro awarded some of the money for planning in already developed areas, including parts of Portland.

In response, the HBA sued Metro over the tax in 2007. The suit was rejected by the Oregon Court of Appeals in 2012. It will sunset in 2014 unless renewed by Metro.

A large percent of the excise tax revenues is generated in Portland. This was especially true during the Great Recession, where residential construction virtually came to a halt everywhere else.

A story on the history of the tax was recently written by Metro reporter Nick Christensen. It is available at news.oregonmetro.gov/1/post.cfm/portland-growth-tax-decision-120413