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Washington County set for big growth, Metro projects

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Hillsboro could become Portland's largest Oregon suburb by 2040 according to new projections from Metro.If regional planners are right, Portland is set for a population boom over the next 20 years — but the majority of the growth in the area is actually projected to be in its suburbs, particularly Hillsboro.

New projections being finalized by Metro, the elected regional government, predict the population of the area inside Portland's urban growth boundary — which extends as far west as Forest Grove — will increase by more than 540,000 by 2040. Portland itself is expected to swell in population by a quarter-million in that time, the projections indicate.

No other city in the region will attract more than 13 percent of the people expected to move to Portland in the Metro projections. But that doesn’t mean major changes aren’t coming.

Some of the most substantial growth is expected in Hillsboro, which is projected to explode past 100,000 people to nearly 130,000 by 2040.

The growth in Hillsboro is so substantial that the city is projected to leapfrog Gresham by 2040, becoming Portland's largest suburb south of the Columbia River. (Metro's study excludes Clark County, Wash., where Vancouver already has a 2015 population of 172,860, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.)

“We’ve been planning for this growth for a long time,” said Hillsboro Planning Director Collin Cooper. “We’re ready for the growth that’s coming.”

Most of that growth will go into South Hillsboro, a 1,400-acre undeveloped portion of the city south of Tualatin Valley Highway, which is expected to include more than 8,000 new homes, along with retails businesses, nature areas and public plazas, which is expected to begin construction later this year.

Other growth is expected into areas such as Orenco, Tanasbourne and AmberGlen.

Hillsboro’s population has tripled over the last three decades, Cooper said.

“This (projection) is actually slowing a bit,” he said.

Cooper said that residents are choosing Hillsboro for several reasons.

“There is a balance of great schools, great parks, employment opportunities and that sense that we are still a small town where everyone knows one another,” he said. “I think it’s a balance of livability.”

Unincorpoated areas to see most growth

Unincorporated areas of Washington County are projected to see a colossal increase of 126,000 residents, swelling from about 240,000 people to more than 365,000 by 2040. The projected growth is greater than that in Multnomah and Clackamas counties combined, according to the report, and will substantially reshape the character of many cities and currently unincorporated areas of the county.

"This new data helps illustrate greater Portland's big challenges: Paying for the pipes, roads, schools and other public services that allow growth to happen, and establishing the community expectations that will allow our growth to happen in great places," said Tom Hughes, the president of Metro. The regional government administers the urban growth boundary, which dictates where development can occur.

Tigard is on track to blow past the 50,000-resident mark up to a population of close to 70,000.

Forest Grove is set for one of the largest increases in the region relative to its size. The city of about 23,000 people is projected to boom to nearly 35,000 by 2040, approximately a 51 percent population increase.

Smaller Cornelius is projected for nearly as large a relative increase, a 46.5 percent surge from 11,900 to almost 17,500.

Growth in cities like Beaverton, Sherwood and Tualatin is projected to be more modest.

Beaverton is set to grow from about 94,000 past the 100,000-resident mark, but only add about 9,000 people overall by 2040, according to Metro's projections.

Projections to change over time

Metro is preparing the projections to help fulfill its state-mandated land use and transportation planning roles. Such projections are always prepared following the Metro Council's periodic expansion of the urban growth boundary, or UGB.

After the council voted not to expand the UGB last year, Metro staff developed the projections by working with the Portland State University Population Resource Center and its own MetroScope forecasting program. The resulting figures were then shared with the local jurisdictions, which provided feedback. They were reviewed by the Metro Technical Advisory Committee on July 6 and will be presented to the council in September.

The projections are based on the current comprehensive plans that have been adopted by all jurisdictions, as required by state land use planning laws. They largely determined how many more people will move to each city and unincorporated area over the next 24 years. Modest additional UGB expansions were also predicted as the result of a new planning process currently being discussed by Hughes and a task force of regional mayors.

"We've had good discussions and charged our planning department staff to develop potential next steps for policy and procedures of handling modest adjustments," Hughes said. "Those will be considered by the task force at the end of the month."

At least some of the projections are likely to change in the future as cities amend their comprehensive plans to allow for more development. Milwaukie is only currently predicted to add 2,644 more people by 2040, despite the opening of the newest MAX project that is widely expected to spur new development along the line.

The projections are scheduled to be updated in 2018, three years earlier than usual. Although Metro traditionally considers UGB expansions every six years, the council agreed to conduct the next review sooner because of questions about how fast the region is actually growing, now that the economy has officially recovered from the Great Recession.

Mark Miller and Geoff Pursinger contributed to this report.

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