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Metro advisory panel recommends against expanding Urban Growth Boundary on split vote

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Christopher Thoms lifts his son Asher onto netting at The Fields park playground. Thoms is a former neighbor whom moved to Tigard, but brings his son back because of the quality of the park.Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey clashed over how many people want to live in big cities on Wednesday. The two mayors disagreed over whether most new residents want to live in downtown apartments or single family houses outside of urban centers.

Hales said demographic trends show most young people and retiring baby boomers want to rent in cities. He said that justifies Portland's willingness to accommodate the majority of the region's growth over the next 20 years, as envisioned in the Comprehensive Plan update the City Council will consider later this year.

"These trends are powerful and undeniable," Hales said. "There is more demand for apartments than single family homes. A lot of creative young people are moving to apartments because they have too much debt to buy homes."

But Willey said the most recent research reveals most growth is now actually occurring outside urban centers.

"The preferences of younger folks will change as they marry and have kids, and older professionals can telecommute," said Willey.

A report published in April by the Brookings Institute found more people are beginning to move to counties without large cities. Titled "Migration to the suburbs and Sun Belt picks up," it was written by William Frey, a senior fellow at the institute's Metropolitan Policy Program.

"The new statistics through July 2014 suggest a renewed growth in outer suburban 'exurban' counties, propelled by domestic migration. The growth is perhaps a sign that the housing market is luring young adults out of the urban core, and it raises the possibility that the attraction of cities — registered for the last three years — may not be as permanent as some assumed," reads the report.

According to figures used in Frey's report, both Washington and Multnomah counties grew faster than Multnomah county over the past two years. Washington County grew 1.35 percent, Clackamas County grew 1.45 percent, and Multnomah County grew 1.1 percent. More people moved to Multnomah County, however, because it was larger to start with.

The exchange between Hales and Willey took place at a meeting of the Metro Policy Advisory Committee, a group of elected officials and citizens in the region that advises Metro on land use and other issues. Under state land use planning laws, Metro administers the UGB that determines where new development can occur in the region.

The group met at the regional government's headquarters to consider a recommendation by Metro Chief Operating Officer Martha Bennett that Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) not be expanded this year. Metro administers the UGB and must decide whether to expand it to accommodate future growth in the region by the end of the year. The elected Metro Council must make a decision by the end of the year or ask the state Land Conservation and Development Commission for an extension.

MPAC approved the recommendation by a 12 to 4 vote after a lengthy debate over whether it is based on faulty data. The recommendation is based on a staff-prepared Urban Growth Report that says there is enough capacity within the UGB to accommodate the most likely population increase over the next 20 years. That conclusion is largely based on Portland's willingness to accommodate 123,000 additional housing units by 2035, mostly in new apartment buildings.

Those voting for the recommendation included Hales and representatives of the Metro Council, the Clackamas County Commission, Lake Oswego, Milwaukie, TriMet, Vancouver, and other Washington County cities.

Beaverton City Councilor Marc San Soucie said he was comfortable with the data in the report, based on what is currently happening in his city.

"We're seeing a lot of apartments being built, and it's market driven," said San Soucie.

Those voting against the recommendation included Willey, Washington County Commission Chair Andy Duyck, Clackamas County special districts representative Dick Jones, and Washington County resident Keith Mays.

"People are buying houses today and the report should reflect that," said Duyck, citing news accounts of bidding wars for single family homes in the region.

Some of those who approved the recommendation agreed the data may be flawed, but cited other reasons for their vote, including a promise that Metro will consider expanding the UGB again in three years — half the time allowed by state land use planning laws.

"Every forecast is wrong, they're all wrong," said Clark County Economic Development Director, who nevertheless voted to support the recommendation.

The elected Metro Council is not obligated to accepted the recommendation, although it has signaled its support for not expanding the UGB this year. Metro will schedule several public hearings on the issue before the council vote on it on Nov. 19.

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