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Outcomes, not acres, key to urban growth boundary plan

Our Opinion

During the next few months, essential choices will be made about the region's future for the next 40 to 50 years. We hope elected leaders from Metro, Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties will soon conclude more than two years' worth of work by agreeing on how much land outside the region's urban growth boundary will protected for farm, forest and natural spaces and how much land will be designated for housing, employment and other development.

The best choices require common sense, balance, compromise and a willingness to invest in an outcome that broadly benefits a variety of needs and all the region's communities.

This is no easy task. In the next 20 years, it is expected that the seven-county metropolitan region will grow by about 1 million people, add 600,000 jobs and add as many as 250,000 new dwellings.

But these are only numbers. Here's what is really at stake:

• Preserving essential natural habitats

• Protecting agriculture and nearby forests surrounding urban areas

• Enabling the region's two dozen or so cities to maintain their unique qualities of life, diverse housing choices and achieve their community aspirations

• Providing land for jobs and a vitally successful, diverse and sustainable regional economy

• Affordably and effectively investing in these outcomes with public and private investment

A series of regional hearings and public forums this month will look at the question of how the area should grow.

We think a recent proposal by Metro President David Bragdon and Metro Councilor Carl Hosticka offers the best road map. Their idea calls for designating as much as 31,564 acres that are outside the region's urban growth boundary as urban reserves for the next 40 to 50 years. It also calls for protecting almost 230,000 acres outside the boundary as exclusive rural reserves.

The Bragdon-Hosticka plan is not perfect, but it is a darn good compromise. It accommodates a 66 percent to 88 percent growth in population and jobs with only a 9 percent expansion of the urban growth boundary. It also does so by better protecting specific land for the future of farms, forests and the environment.

Unfortunately, that is not enough for some. A coalition of agriculture, land-use and natural resource groups said Monday that the urban reserves designation should be cut in half, to a total of 15,000 acres. That same day, Portland Mayor Sam Adams agreed with the idea, saying that more centralized development will be required in the future due to environmental reasons, as well as the cost of required infrastructure.

Unfortunately, critics of the Bragdon-Hosticka plan ignore several things, such as the impact of enormous population growth. They ignore the existing solar technology and high-technology sectors that are flourishing and willing to continue to invest in Washington County. And they ignore that small and mid-size communities have aspirations worth investing in, including diverse housing choices and nearby employment centers that don't require commuting to downtown Portland.

Mostly, critics unwisely ignore that without reasonable compromise in the next few weeks, Metro and county leaders will not reach agreement on the protection of urban and rural lands. As a result, the region's growth will be less strategic and far more likely to have a negative impact on the overall presence and vitality of urban area agriculture and natural environments.

Beware: Critics might get what they fear the most by failing to compromise.

The best opportunity to achieve essential outcomes for the future will be served by no longer simply counting acres, but by all special interest groups engaging in a reasonable, broad-based compromise.