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 by 2,817 acres for new development.
The cities are Beaverton, Hillsboro, King City, Sherwood and Wilsonville. 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.
In their letters, the cities say the expansions could accomodate up to 9,669 new homes over the next 20 years, along with parks, pedestrian and bike paths, public facilities and retail opportunities. Most would result in complete new neighborhoods, the letters say. King City even says its request 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 of this year.
All of the potential expansion 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.
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 accomodate 3,700 new homes in the rapid-growing area that already includes a new high school and mul-
tiple 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 is necessary to address a projected deficit of 497 homes over the next 20 years.
King City intends to ask that the UGB be expanded to include all 528 acres of its urban reserves. In a Dec. 22 letter, Mayor Kenneth Gibson and City Manager Michael Weston said the area can accomodate 3,300 new homes 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 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 one in 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 accomodate 850 homes.
Oregon land use laws require the UGB to always contain enough developable land to accomodate 20 years of projected population and employment growth. It housed nearly 1.6 million peope on about 259,000 acres in 2015. The population within the boundary is currently 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 and how much. It will include update 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.
The last time the Metro Council reviewed the Urban Growth Boundary was in 2015. At the end of the year, the council decided that it did not need to be expanded, in large part because Portland had enough zoned capacity for new multifamily housing projects to accomodate almost everyone expected to move to the region over the next 20 years.
Housing crisis continues to grow
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 looking on the horizon. Because of that, although the council would not have normally reviewed the UGB again for another six years, it promised to conduct the next evaluation in three years, which is why it is happening now instead of in 2021.
A lot has happened since the decision to not expand the UGB in December 2015. 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, however.
But over the next two years, Portland and Multnomah County created a Joint Office on Homelessness and committed tens of millions of additional dollars to creating more homeless services, emergency shelter space and affordable housing. Portland voters approved a $285.4 million affordable housing bond at the November 2016 general election. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and legislative leaders have declared creating more afforable 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 a regional Equitable Housing Initiative led by Councilor Sam Chase several years ago, and 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 this 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 requirements for expansion
In addition to happening sooner than usual, this year's Urban Growth Boundary review 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 such problems as a lack of infrastructure funding.
Largely because of that, the council voted late last year to require jurisdictions to demonstrate 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 been adopted for their requested expansion areas.
But the 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 where Metro has 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.