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Bill could generate smarter land use

Over the past few years, expansions of the metro-area urban growth boundary have added more than 20,000 acres of land within the boundary for future housing, public services and jobs.

But for the most part, these expansions have done only one thing exceeding well - please no one.

The list of those disappointed is diverse and long:

* Some city and county officials say future growth is being focused in areas where cities will be hard-pressed, if not unwilling and unable, to provide urban public services. This is certainly true of the Stafford Basin.

* Farm groups are concerned that past urban-growth decisions foretell that even more farmland will be lost in the future.

* Business and industry groups aren't happy. Some say the large urban expansion in Damascus is years away from being ready for development and is too far removed from existing industries that need more land for jobs right now.

* Certain environmental groups have said recent urban expansions have not sufficiently protected environmentally sensitive landscapes and wildlife habitat areas.

Given such a track record, we think it is reasonable to try something different.

That's why we support Senate Bill 1011, which would allow Metro and local counties the authority to designate lands that over the next 40 to 50 years would be protected as urban reserves for jobs and housing, and designate other lands to be protected as rural reserves for agriculture, forestry or environmental needs.

This legislation already has passed the Senate and likely will be voted on this week by the House.

Senate Bill 1011 is not the complete fix for a 30-year-old statewide land-use system that is in need of an overhaul.

But we do support the creation of rural and urban reserves.

One reason is for certainty.

Farmers, businesses and city leaders need to know where the region anticipates growing and where other activities, such as farming, still can occur.

In return, we think it reasonable that planning for where the urban growth boundary will be expanded for housing and jobs will not be decided primarily, as it is today, by the quality of soil for farming.

The reserves legislation is supported by a coalition of city, county, Metro and state agencies; by businesses, real estate and home-builder associations; and by land-use watchdog groups.

But not everyone is sold on the notion.

The Oregon Farm Bureau will remain neutral on the concept. The Washington County-based Westside Economic Alliance has questioned whether reserves would be too restrictive if economic or growth patterns change in the future.

We think what's largely missing from this debate is something you can't require in any form of legislation: Trust and confidence.

We believe all those interested in better managing urban growth expansions should commit to work together to build more trust among themselves.

They should confidently give the notion of urban and rural reserves a chance - knowing that such reserves are but a first step toward reforming a land-use system that can better serve this state, its citizens and its diverse economy.