As the economy slowly recovers, industries from the region and the world are scouting for new places to create jobs. Whether the Portland area will fully take part in this economic recovery depends greatly on hearings taking place in Salem.

Last week, the state Land Conservation and Development Commission began hearing arguments for and against a limited urban growth boundary expansion in the region. We hope commissioners treat the matter with the urgency it deserves by recognizing that the Portland area's economy - and by direct extension, the economy of the entire state - could be set back for years if this urban expansion is delayed longer than it needs to be.

Some land is better than none

At issue is the relatively small amount of land the Metro Council voted to bring into the Portland-area's urban boundary five months ago. Predictably, the boundary changes were too large for environmental groups and too small for development advocates. A number of parties filed objections to Metro's decision with the state Land Conservation and Development Commission.

After reviewing those appeals, the staff of the Department of Land Conservation and Development is recommending that the commission partially approve and partially reject (or 'remand,' as the terminology goes) the Metro decision. This recommendation - which is based on technical, not substantive issues - is particularly distressing for the following reason: a remand of the Metro decision will mean another 18-month to two-year delay in the expansion.

That's not even counting the time the issue would be tied up in court.

Such a delay would send a damaging message to industries interested in coming to Portland. As a recent study by Metro and the Port of Portland has documented, the Portland region has a scarcity of parcels available for large employers. That means new or expanding companies will look to other cities, where the choices are broader, to build facilities and create jobs.

We may have the edge in livability, transportation, sustainability and other factors, but without land, we have nothing to offer potential large employers.

The urban growth boundary expansion was based on an assumption that the Portland region's population will grow more slowly in the future than it has in the past. As a result, the areas that would be brought into the boundary for residential and employment growth aren't as large as the development community would like. But those same interests are now willing to drop their objections and urge the commission to approve the boundary changes.

Any land, they reason, is better than none at all - and no land is what the region would get for several years if the Metro decision is remanded and work has to start all over again.

The staff of the Department of Land Conservation and Development is recommending the remand not because it thinks the expansion is too large or too small. Rather, the staff simply believes Metro hasn't presented enough evidence to support its case.

Jobs are at stake

We think Metro has done sufficient homework, considering the reams of analysis and the thousands of hours of staff time and public input that went into this process. If anything, Metro has erred on the conservative side, bringing in too little land, not too much.

And, we're sensitive to the concerns of officials in Cornelius and Forest Grove, whose requests to bring more industrial land into their boundaries were denied.

Those issues, however, can be addressed in 2014, when Metro again begins the process of reviewing the region's needs for urban land. In the meantime, Hillsboro has property just outside its current boundaries that could be home for the next big employer.

Both Hillsboro and Beaverton also require land for homes and schools - but they need the boundaries to be approved before they can proceed.

Without a pragmatic decision from the state commission to adopted the limited boundary expansion, the Portland region - the state's economic engine - will lack the land needed to build a complete economy and attract the types of jobs its residents deserve.

Contract Publishing

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