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Future will bring an influx of people to the metro area

Stafford residents may have more of a say in the future of their area between LO, WL

The Portland area's population is likely to grow by 1.3 million to 1.9 million over the next 50 years, according to a new Metro study.

The 50-year projections, required by a 2007 state law, kick off a two-year drive to recast the future shape and density of the urbanized area, one that could take a hard look at the Stafford Basin.

Next year, Metro will use the 50-year projections to help designate future sites for urban development and set aside other rural parcels for preservation. Then Metro will revise the urban growth boundary in 2010.

The new projections will influence public spending on roads and transit, open space protection and policies that spur urban density and in-fill development. Resulting policy decisions will bring a mix of anxiety, security and money-making opportunities to rural land owners, real estate developers and others.

'I think it'll focus people's attention on the question that things will change, and they will change dramatically,' said Carl Hosticka, a Metro councilor who focuses on growth management issues. 'Now the question is, 'what do we want (the changes) to be?''

Metro's last go-round at expanding the urban growth boundary - an invisible line around the developed parts of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties that limits urban sprawl and protects farm and forest lands - came in 2002. That allowed urban-style development of Damascus in Clackamas County and North Bethany in Washington County.

But after much fussing over that decision, little development has taken place in those two areas because there's no funds to pay for sewers and other public services needed for subdivisions. Most of the region's population growth has gone to built-up areas.

The process will be different this go-round.

The Oregon Legislature enacted Senate Bill 1011 last year, giving Metro more latitude to expand urbanization onto farmlands, if it takes parallel steps to preserve other rural lands.

Before, Metro was required to adjust the urban growth boundary so it allows a 20-year land supply to accommodate growth. Under SB 1011, Metro must provide land for the next 40 to 50 years, within the urban growth boundary and in new 'urban reserves,' or rural areas targeted for urbanization after the first 20 years.

Metro also must designate 'rural reserves' under the law, shielding those lands from urban development for several decades.

The new policies will help foster complete communities, Hosticka said, rather than bedroom communities that are far from jobs and services. The policies also give Metro more latitude to consider public opinion when choosing which lands develop and when.

That's good news for residents in the Stafford Basin, where the newly formed hamlet - an advisory form of government - is expected to give landowners more say in Stafford's future.

With nearby cities in a possible position to supply roads, water and sewer to development and freeway access to Stafford available, the area has long been eyed for development.

'I think it's unlikely that it will still be the way it is for the next 50 years but when it happens and how it happens is the main thing that's under consideration,' Hosticka said.

If hamlet residents are able to craft a uniform vision for how development in Stafford should move forward, Hosticka said Metro is likely to take heed, rather than sort through competing visions in the area on its own.

As Metro aims to target development near jobs, Stafford may look less attractive than other areas. In Washington County, for example, development is likely to occur in areas that are close to employment centers in Hillsboro.

Potential urban reserves there include an area south of Hillsboro formerly owned by the Sisters of St. Mary's, and Cooper Mountain in Washington County, Hosticka said.

Metro's new population and jobp rojections are simply ranges of numbers. 'What we do with the numbers is more significant than the numbers themselves,' Hosticka said.

But talk of adding more than 1 million people to the metro area figures to raise hackles.

The Portland metro-area population was almost 2.2 million in 2007, according to Portland State University's Center for Population Studies. That's based on the Portland-Beaverton-Vancouver Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area defined by the U.S. Census, which includes the tri-county area plus Yamhill and Columbia counties in Oregon and Clark and Skamania counties in Washington.

Metro's new projections suggest there is an 80 percent chance that the metro population will be 3.5 million to 4.1 million by 2060. That amount of newcomers may seem shocking to some, but it's based on an annual growth rate that's lower than the rate from 1960 to 2000.

Put another way, if the seven-county metro area grows 62 percent by 2060, the population will hit 3.5 million. If it grows 90 percent, it will reach 4.1 million. For comparison purposes, the seven-county area grew 12 percent since the 2000 Census, but those were relative boom years. There was an influx of newcomers here even during the 2001-02 recession.

Metro's first attempt at a 50-year plan was in the early 1990s, when it devised the Region 2040 plan. In that plan, Metro encouraged intense development of regional centers and greater density via in-fill. Some of the resulting infill developments have proved controversial. But there is more acceptance of denser population centers, as evidenced by the popularity of the Pearl District and South Waterfront areas of Portland.

Metro's population projections for Region 2040 turned out to be too low, said Andy Cotugno, Metro planning director.

It's one thing to project population growth based on people's life expectancies and past trends. It's more difficult to predict things like Intel's massive investments in Hillsboro, the influx of illegal immigrants and the impact of world trade.

Metro will hold a forum Friday to share its new projections and get input from specialists in the public and private sectors. Then Metro and its partners will tackle the urban and rural reserves and new urban growth boundary.

Hosticka noted that the May 20 elections produced a majority of Metro councilors who favor more intense development inside the urban growth boundary, so it's not clear how ambitious the boundary expansions will be. If the Portland area grows like Vancouver B.C., relying on midrise buildings and greater density, it won't need to expand the boundary, he said. If it grows like Atlanta, the urban area will take up all the available land out to the Coast Range, he said.

Lake Oswego Review Reporter Lee van der Voo contributed to this story.