Wilsonville government opposes bill to allow affordable housing on reserve land
Though Wilsonville City Council has identified fostering affordable housing as one of its primary priorities and recently approved a roadmap to do so, the local government's stance on a new bill at the Oregon Legislature provides a window into where it believes such development should go — and where it shouldn't.
House Bill 3072 stipulates that planning authorities may amend an urban growth boundary upon a petition from a developer offering to produce housing that is affordable to moderate or low-income households (called workforce housing) or commercial buildings that support housing in areas currently zoned as urban reserves (which is land just outside of the UGB that may be considered for development in the next 50 years). This excludes high-value farmland as well as other protected resources, and urban services must be included.
Though acknowledging that affordable housing is a "critical" issue, the city's recent testimony on the bill argued that adding such housing on the outskirts of town is not a good idea because such land is located away from amenities like transit, social services and grocery stores.
"Placing affordable housing on the UGB edge forces lower-income residents to spend limited financial resources on operating a vehicle to travel for all essential services. In essence, congregating affordable housing into low-income housing projects on the UGB edge appears to be a policy unintentionally favoring the creation of 'suburban slums' that harm all residents of a community, rather than integrating affordable housing developments within the generally more desirable areas of the community," wrote Wilsonville Public Affairs Director Mark Ottenad on behalf of Mayor Julie Fitzgerald.
Surrounded by pockets of land designated for future development, Wilsonville might sit along the frontier of expansion in the Portland metro area. According to a Metro regional government map, much of the urban reserve land in the area is located directly to the northeast of Wilsonville toward West Linn, but there are also urban reserves pockets to the west of town.
Dave Hunnicutt, president of the Oregon Property Owners Association, testified at a legislative public hearing Thursday, March 4, that building affordable housing within the current growth boundary is particularly challenging due to the exorbitant cost of land. Using urban reserve land, he said, would be cheaper.
"When you have $50,000 per unit in system development charges and land that is selling for $600,000 to $800,000 an acre (in Washington County), you can't develop workforce housing," Hunnicutt said.
Developer Gordon Root testified that he would be able to develop housing that would cost $229,000 on current urban reserve land, which is well below the average home price in Wilsonville.
In 2018, the city's application to Metro to convert land designated as urban reserves into the future Frog Pond East and South neighborhoods was approved. The city's proposal called for the inclusion of "middle" housing (such as duplexes, triplexes and cottage clusters) but did not specify that any of that would be technically affordable.
Community Development Director Chris Neamtzu said companies regularly reach out to the city with interest in collaborating with the government to provide subsidized housing at the city's periphery, where land is cheaper, but the city has rebuffed those advances. Wilsonville's Equitable Housing Strategic Plan includes the possibility of subsidizing affordable housing and there are a number of such facilities in the city center including Creekside Woods near City Hall and Autumn Park Apartments.
"Creekside Woods is walkable to the senior center, Town Center, services are in a good location, and it's integrated amongst market rate housing in the area," Neamtzu said.
In their joint testimony, the Oregon Home Builders Association, Oregon Realtors and Oregon Property Owners Association stated that areas are designated as urban reserves in anticipation of future development and because the local municipality can provide services to the area. They viewed the bill as a way to address the dearth of housing supply and high housing costs in the state.
"As you all know, we have a housing shortage in Oregon, and it gets worse each year. HB 3072 will alleviate some of that problem," the testimony read.
Along with the city, a number of other people or groups whose testimony was posted on the Oregon Legislature's website also opposed the legislation.
On behalf of the Oregon Land and Water Alliance, Paul Lipscomb wrote: "In a nutshell, our view is that House Bill 3072 is just the latest attempt by Oregon Land Use Law opponents to justify more and more urban sprawl," the testimony read.
State Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, framed the legislation as a way to get affordable housing developed faster than it otherwise would during a public hearing Thursday. He is the bill's chief sponsor.
Currently, a local municipality applies to the Metro regional government with a plan for adding land to the UGB and Metro chooses to accept or reject the proposal. This process can take multiple years to complete, Neamtzu said, adding that the city doesn't plan to apply for the conversion of more urban reserves into developable land in the near future.
This bill would allow the city and a developer to shepherd the development of urban reserve land without Metro's consent.
"We know we are going in that direction in the future," Zika said, referencing the planning that went into designating urban reserve land. "We hope this process will get there quicker and provide more housing for our constituents."
The Metro Council also opposed the bill, framing it as a potential circumvention of the standard land use process. The city had similar concerns.
"The proposed bill would preempt careful local planning efforts for appropriate Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) expansions that by law require significant citizen engagement. HB 3072 commands that a 'local government shall amend its comprehensive plan or land use regulations' in spite of prior citizen-engaged planning efforts to site appropriate land uses within the UGB urban reserve areas," the city's testimony read.
However, though it wasn't in the initial version of the bill, Zika said an amendment would be proposed that would make clear that such projects on urban reserve land would have to be approved by a local municipality.
For more information on the bill, visit https://olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2021R1/Measures/Overview/HB3072.
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