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Poll shows Oregonians favor protecting rural land

Area residents favor development on existing city land, not farms


Though some property owners were frustrated with the land use “grand bargain” recently approved by the 2014 Oregon State Legislature — which preserved segments of rural reserve land in Washington County — a 2013 Oregon Values and Beliefs Survey found that most Oregonians want to see existing farm and forest lands preserved.

The majority also feels that new development should only occur within existing cities.

The poll, which was conducted by Portland-based DHM Research, also grouped its findings by city, combining West Linn and Wilsonville due to their shared school district.

The grand bargain compromise resolved land use planning problems in Washington County and was hailed as one of the major accomplishments of the session that adjourned March 7. It was supported by elected officials, developers, environmentalists and farmers to end the uncertainty created when the Oregon Court of Appeals rejected Metro’s 50-year plan for future growth and conservation in the region.

Yet the compromise did not address Clackamas County, where the cities of West Linn, Lake Oswego and Tualatin continue to battle against future development in the neighboring Stafford area.

The survey responses support the basic thrust of Oregon’s land use planning laws, which began with the passage of Senate Bill 100 by the 1973 Oregon Legislature. The bill created the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission, which adopted policies requiring the establishment of urban growth boundaries limiting new development around larger Oregon cities.

Metro, the elected regional government, administers the boundary around the urbanized portions of Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties.

The survey found that the environment is a top concern among all Oregonians. The state’s beauty and scenery is the No. 1 reason people gave for living in Oregon. Environmental awareness is the top reason why people believe Oregon will be better 10 years from now. Most state residents want productive farm and forest land protected from development, and a majority say they are willing to pay more taxes to protect water and air quality.

Although the poll was conducted well before the land use grand bargain, most Oregonians — 57 percent — said they favor protecting the environment even at the risk of slowing economic growth. That response was heavily influenced by opinions in Portland, however, where 76 percent sided with the environment.

But even when city residents are isolated in the survey, a majority —53 percent of the rest of the region and state — still agreed. In West Linn and Wilsonville, 52 percent of residents fell on the side of the environment.

Most Oregonians — 66 percent — even said they are willing to increase or reallocate their taxes to preserve farm and forest land. Support is greatest in Portland, where 76 percent were willing to do so. That compares to 63 percent of the rest of the region and 65 percent of the rest of the state.

West Linn and Wilsonville residents generally agreed with arguments made for compact urban development, with 76 percent saying that climate change requires us to change our way of life, such as driving less or living more simply. That compares to 73 percent of the rest of the region and 70 percent of the rest of the state.

West Linn and Wilsonville residents also supported specific policy choices linked to compact urban development. For example, 64 percent of residents agreed that new development should occur within existing cities and towns to save farmland and stop sprawl. That compared to 80 percent in Portland and 65 percent of the rest of the state.

Yet when it comes to transportation, just 43 percent of West Linn and Wilsonville residents expressed favor toward shifting some funding for road and highway construction toward public transportation, such as better bus service and high-speed rail projects. That compared to 72 percent in Portland.

In Stafford, transportation was major concern for West Linn, Tualatin and Lake Oswego when Metro originally marked the area as urban reserve. While contending that LCDC misapplied its review for substantial evidence, West Linn attorney Jeff Condit cited a finding in the regional transportation plan that suggests an increase in development would cause transportation in the Stafford area to function at a “failing” level.

The appeals court ruling came after Metro asked the 2007 Oregon Legislature to allow it to set 50-year urban and rural reserves in the region. Working with all three counties, Metro completed the designations in 2011. They were approved that year by the Land Conservation and Development Commission but promptly challenged in the court by land owners, conservationists and city governments.

The court rejected the designations during the 2014 Oregon Legislature.

That created uncertainty in Clackamas County, where Metro had previously approved urban growth boundary expansions for new residential and industrial development.

The grand bargain redrew some of the urban and rural reserves and ratified the expansions.

During the debate over the grand bargain in Salem, some legislators said the appeals court rulings proves Oregon’s land use system is broken and needs to be revisited during the 2015 session. The survey found that 51 percent of West Linn and Wilsonville residents oppose changing land use policies to allow more development. The rest of the region and state also showed an even split on increased development.

The 2013 Oregon Values and Beliefs Survey is the third in a series of statewide polls on attitudes conducted by DHM Research. The original findings can be found at oregonvalueproject.org.



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