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Know where were growing

MY VIEW • The planned expansion of the area's urban growth boundary can provide an engine for pulling our economy forward Ñ if we let it

In the coming months, Metro's decisions on expansion of the area's urban growth boundary can give this region the basic tool it needs to jump-start our stalled economy É or not.

As the debate about the UGB expansion unfolds, the lack of readily developable land for industrial uses has become a rallying point of concern for a growing alliance of public and private leaders. The Regional Economic Development Partners, a coalition that includes leaders from virtually every city, county and economic development agency from Hillsboro to Gresham, makes the point that Metro's initial recommendation for UGB expansion satisfies less than 40 percent of the identified needs for industrial land during the next 20 years.

With the publishing of Executive Officer Mike Burton's recommendations in August, Metro served a useful and appropriate purpose by providing a starting point for discussing the need for more industrial land. Burton acknowledges the shortage and encourages further discussion.

Rising to this challenge, the regional partners have identified additional readily developable land in each of their communities that will help to attract and retain businesses, preserve family-wage jobs and serve as the most basic element in the region's continued long-term economic development efforts.

Those of us who represent the development community share the concerns of the regional partners and believe that the coalition's proposed solutions make good market sense. The following considerations are critical to Metro's decision-making in the coming months:

1. There must be an explicit recognition that there is a critical need for more industrial land in the Portland metropolitan region.

Our elected leaders need to remain objective and inform the citizens of this region that we have an insufficient 20-year supply of industrial land, which will result in both near- and long-term adverse consequences for jobs, regional-state tax bases and economic stability.

In 1992, there were approximately 9,700 acres of industrial land within the Portland metropolitan area. Today, there are only 2,000 acres. If job demand continues even at a slower pace than in the 1990s, this region will be left on the sidelines, competitively and economically.

2. The UGB expansion proposal as it stands now does not meet pressing short-term needs for industrial land.

Metro's initial proposal places nearly all of the UGB industrial land expansion in the Damascus area, where, realistically, it will be years before there will be the transportation and service infrastructure to support development.

As the regional partners point out, without 'ready-to-go' industrial land, we lose the ability to attract business and create jobs. Once our region falls off the A-List, it's twice as hard to reattract investment.

Because of this critical shortage, Metro should be encouraged to bring in at least some development-ready industrial land in its Dec. 2 expansion decision.

3. The UGB plan falls short of meeting the 20-year need for industrial property.

Conservative estimates conclude that our region will need 5,700 net acres during the next two decades. Others argue even that won't be enough.

The executive officer's recommendations identify only 2,200 gross acres. Even the additional 2,600 gross acres proposed by the regional partners doesn't get us where we need to be. The current proposal falls woefully short of the land we need to preserve existing jobs and facilitate new ones.

4. The policy framework for commercial and industrial land development within the UGB has the potential for as much impact as the expansion itself.

Currently, Metro is assuming that there is a 20-year supply of commercial land within the existing urban growth boundary, in large part by converting aging industrial areas to commercial uses, an assumption challenged by some commercial development interests.

How can we determine how much more land outside the existing boundary we'll need if there's uncertainty about how we use what we've got?

Metro recognizes this and has proposed modifications to policies that affect the development characteristics of both existing commercial and industrial land. The regional partners and the business community need to be involved in these discussions in a meaningful way, so these policies reflect the realities of the market, consumer behaviors and redevelopment costs.

5. Metro's decision to defer certain decisions until we have more information is the right thing to do.

We agree with Metro staff that on some fronts, it is better to move ahead cautiously and with due diligence.

A number of decisions with potentially dramatic impacts have yet to be decided. For example, wetlands and habitat set-asides should be determined before we can know what our additional land demands might be. For this reason, a second round of expansion likely will be required within 18 to 24 months.

Jim Mark is chief executive officer of the Melvin Mark Cos. He lives in Portland's West Hills.