UGB aftermath: Lessons learned, looking ahead
When the Sherwood City Council unanimously voted not to submit an Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) expansion request to Metro Council earlier this year, every councilor named one key factor in their decision: the Sherwood School District wasn't on board, because it wasn't prepared to accommodate the hundreds or even thousands of new students that growth could bring.
For Julia Hajduk, the city's Community Development Director, this dynamic "is a little bit of a Catch-22."
Hajduk said this in a conversation with the Gazette last month about key takeaways from this year's UGB consideration — particularly in regards to the last-minute school district position that weighed heavily on the Council's decision.
The Gazette also spoke with Sherwood School District Superintendent Heather Cordie and Chief Operations Officer Jim Rose about this same issue.
The School Board unanimously passed a resolution urging the City Council to not submit a growth ask to Metro just weeks before the final decision had to be made in April. That's because, although the city has been planning on eventually incorporating Sherwood West (the area of potential expansion) since at least 2016, the district hadn't taken the area into consideration when planning its own school capacities.
The school district works with a company called Davis Demographics to forecast future district populations. As a rule, the district tends to take a 10-year view when planning for school capacities. The latest study indicated that Sherwood will add about 1,100 new homes in the next decade, resulting in 700 new students.
The new Sherwood High School — which is being built to accommodate 2,000 students at first, and eventually 2,400 — reflects that projected growth of 700 students, as the current Sherwood High has about 1,700 students.
According to Cordie, Sherwood West was never a part of the Davis Demographics projections, because the question of when exactly the expansion will happen has always been up in the air.
"If you start looking at adding a lot through the Urban Growth Boundary, we can start counting the homes and counting the students," Cordie said. "At some point, we do have the capacity that we're constrained to."
Hajduk said that the district and city staff were in communication about Sherwood West at the time of the last Davis Demographics study a couple of years ago, but that the study's 10-year scope meant that the possible UGB ask wasn't a factor.
"I didn't think, and I still don't think, that Sherwood West would have come in within the next 10 years, but that's the projection horizon the school district was working on," Hajduk said.
By Hajduk's estimate, it could easily take eight to 10 years from when Sherwood West becomes developable to when people begin moving into homes there. But there was some disagreement among City Council and School Board members about how long that process actually would take — with some fearing that it could happen within as few as six years.
"I still don't think that actually would have happened, but the Council needed to make a decision based on what was best for their relationships with the School Board and the community," Hajduk said.
The situation Hajduk calls a "Catch-22" also sounds a bit like a riddle when the city planner talks about it:
"If they're only accommodating what's known, but we can't expand because they can't accommodate it, then it will never be accommodated."
Better communication needed
Both Cordie and Hajduk told the Gazette that this year's UGB consideration process indicated that better communication is needed between the district and the city. Cordie brought up the possibility of holding more joint meetings between the City Council and the School Board.
"The thoughtful planning and partnership between the city and the school district and other stakeholders, we're really excited about that moving forward," she said. "Our Board and the current City Council and Mayor and staff are really dedicated to making sure that that happens."
Hajduk said that she feels the city and district work well together "on a staff level," but that better communication between the City Council and School Board likely would benefit the community.
"Cities plan cities and schools plan schools," she said. "Sherwood is unique in a way, because I think our community sees them as one in the same. So for us, just making sure we're mindful of that perception and that relationship is a constant takeaway."
Hajduk added that, in addition to communicating better with the school district, the city needs to do a more effective job informing the community about how development works. She heard many community members say, for example, that they would support growth if the necessary infrastructure was already in place. But typically, development is what pays for that growth — another Catch-22 situation.
"I'm comfortable that we're not asking, because our community clearly wasn't ready," Hajduk said. "And we don't want to shove something down their throats."
It's unclear when this issue will come up again. Typically, Metro considers growth asks every six years, but it plans to open up a mid-cycle ask opportunity in three years for communities that have special circumstances that require quick growth.
Metro, the regional government, controls the growth boundary that surrounds Portland and its suburbs, beyond which urban development and services are not allowed.
"I don't know how that's going to work, because it's never been done before," Hajduk said about the mid-cycle asks.
The city is continuing to develop its Comprehensive Growth Plan, meaning that community members may have a better idea of how Sherwood West will fit into the Sherwood when the next ask opportunity comes around. And if the city and school district are able to better coordinate, then the city might be able to come up with a growth plan that has the support of the district.
But that doesn't mean a growth ask next time is a sure thing, by any means.
"I don't know where we'll be with the comprehensive plan, or the community, or the council support," Hajduk said. "Things may change."