Banks looks at expanding its growth boundary

TAKING NOTES - City's Planning Commission hopes public input can drive the process, ahead of rumors population could double

The city of Banks is running out of land, putting the squeeze on anyone interested in building a new factory, store or subdivision there.

But city leaders are looking to change all that by expanding the city's Urban Growth Boundary, the ring around the city that determines where developers can build.

Last night the Banks Planning Commission held an informal public meeting to draw ideas from citizens about what new lands could be added to the city's boundaries.

The meeting was an early step in a year-and-a-half process that's barely begun. While the land that the city could expand onto is up in the air, the city knows it will need more land in the future.

In the next 20 years, population estimates expect that the city's headcount will more than double, from 1,435 today to 3,739 in 2030.

'The underlying difficulty that all cities have is that we're supposed to, by law, maintain a 20-year inventory (of buildable land),' said City Manager Jim Hough. 'We know we don't have that, and so we're in the process of restoring that inventory.'

The little bit of land that is vacant inside the city limits couldn't accommodate more than infill development. It could perhaps support a skinny house here or there, but nothing on the scale of sprawling subdivisions that could provide housing for large numbers of future residents.

The land shortage also creates headaches for the Banks School District, which needs to plan for its own future growth.

Hough said that all of the growth forces are forcing the city to move quickly in the planning process.

'There's a lot of pent-up pressure for a decision to be made, if and when - or where - we go,' Hough said.

Collaborative process

Since Banks isn't a part of Metro, its expansion plans are largely a collaborative process between the city government and the state.

Even so, city planners will have to carefully address the issue of preserving the high-value farmland (zoned 'exclusive farm use' or 'EFU') that surrounds the city, a requirement of state code.

'We're surrounded by EFU, a lot of EFU. That's problematic - that's a problem that everybody in Washington County has to worry about,' Hough said.

Forest Grove and Cornelius are also bounded on nearly all sides by EFU land, which has complicated efforts to increase those cities' Urban Growth Boundaries.

Hough said that the planning process will take into account that sensitivity and work around EFU issues.

City officials are aiming to complete the planning process for expanding its borders by April of next year, but that timeline could stretch depending on citizen input, scheduling and funding considerations.

Regulatory hand

Gary Fish, a regional representative for the state Department of Land Conservation and Development, said that small cities like Banks benefit from a lighter regulatory hand from the state (Banks doesn't have to conduct a periodic review, for instance).

But even so, the planning work needed to make a UGB expansion conform with state law is expensive, and Fish said the grants that are available to offset the cost get gobbled up quickly.

'The odds are we wouldn't be able to provide anywhere near full funding if they applied for it,' Fish said.

Hough estimates the whole process might cost $35,000 or more over the course of the next year.

Hough hopes that by going through the UGB expansion now, the city can piggyback on what Washington County is working on with Metro: defining urban reserves, places designated for future city development.

Hough said that being in Washington County affords Banks an opportunity to work on the cutting edge of long-term state planning.

'If we were in a frontier county, it'd be a whole different story. The sense of urgency for long-term planning wouldn't be there,' Hough said.