Cities want more room to grow
With the Portland area facing a severe housing shortage, five cities intend to ask the Metro Council to increase the urban growth boundary it administers, to allow more room for development.
Beaverton, Hillsboro, King City, Sherwood and Wilsonville 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 cities say the expansions could accommodate up to 14,000 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 would also 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.
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.
What the cities want
Beaverton is likely to make the largest request. In a Dec. 21, 2017, letter, Mayor Denny Doyle said the city intends to ask that the UGB be expanded to include the entire 1,242-acre Cooper Mountain Urban Reserve. Doyle said the expansion could accommodate 3,700 new homes in the rapid-growing area that already includes a new high school and multiple new subdivisions in south Beaverton.
Sherwood intends to ask for a 626-acre expansion in an area known as Sherwood West. In a Dec. 22 letter to Metro, City Manager Joseph Gall said the expansion will accomodate up to 5,155 homes over the next 20 years.
King City intends to ask that the UGB be expanded to include all 528 acres in Urban Reserve Area 6D. In a Dec. 22 letter, Mayor Kenneth Gibson and City Manager Michael Weston said the area can accommodate 3,300 new homes in four new neighborhoods over the next 10 to 15 years, and perhaps up to 8,000 over time.
Wilsonville is considering asking for a 271-acre expansion in an area known as Frog Pond South and East. In a Dec. 22 letter, City Manager Brian Cosgrove said the expansion will allow the creation of two neighborhoods with up to 1,322 new homes. It would allow the creation of two new neighborhoods adjacent to the existing Frog Pond West.
Hillsboro intends to ask for a 150-acre expansion in the area known as Witch Hazel Village South on the southern edge of the city. in a Dec. 27 letter, Planning Director Colin Cooper said the expansion can help accommodate 850 homes.
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.
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 is also 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.
UGB by the numbers
• Current size: About 259,000 acres, including rivers and other natural areas.
• Current population: About 1,583,000, as of 2015.
• Future UGB population: About 1,983,000 by 2035.
• Tentative requested expansions: 2,817 acres.
• Current urban reserves: About 23,000 acres (not all can be developed).
• Current rural reserves: About 269,000 acres.