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Metro COO: Don't expand urban growth boundary

Report says region has enough buildable land; builders disagree

Metro is moving another step closer to maintaining the existing Portland-area urban growth boundary.

The elected regional government administers the boundary around the three-county Portland area where new development can occur. On July 23, Metro Chief Operating Officer Martha Bennett recommended against expanding the boundary.

“This being a growth management decision, the headline is that I recommend that the council conclude that there is currently no regional need to expand the UGB,” Bennett wrote in an email to the Metro Council.

Bennett based her recommendation on an updated 2014 Urban Growth Report that pointed out that a 20-year supply of buildable land already exists within the Portland-area boundary, as required by state land-use planning laws. The council must decide later this year whether to accept her recommendation.

Officials with the Home Builders Association of Metro Portland question the recommendation, however, saying the report includes several dubious assumptions. Those assumptions include an unprecedented increase in multifamily housing construction, continued lower personal incomes, and unrealistically low homeownership levels.

“These factors likely will create more pressure and pushback within Portland as existing neighborhoods have to absorb more growth, driving up land values, housing prices and rents,” said HBAMP Board President Nate Bond and Government Relations Chair Jim Standring in a joint statement. “It will impact traffic and livability to settled neighborhoods.”

Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas said he was disappointed the recommendation does not call for more employment land to be brought into the county in his part of the region.

“Right now, we have a lot of workers commuting 30 miles or more to jobs with a transportation system that isn’t meeting our needs,” Savas said.

Oregon land-use law requires cities across the state to establish urban growth boundaries with a long-term supply of buildable land available for development. Metro manages the Portland region's growth boundary for more than a dozen cities in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.

Balancing region's growth

In a July 23 email to elected officials in the region, Metro President Tom Hughes said the recommendation would be discussed at a council work session on Tuesday, July 28. He said it also would be discussed at an Aug. 12 meeting of mayors and county chairs within his government’s jurisdiction.

And it will be the subject of the Metro Policy Advisory Committee meetings in August and September, Hughes said. The committee includes local elected officials from throughout the region.

The council already has agreed that approximately 400,000 additional people and 240,000 more jobs will move into the Portland-area urban growth boundary by 2035. The report concludes that they can be accommodated by the construction of 195,500 new homes during the next 20 years — 120,500 new multifamily homes and 75,000 new single-family homes.

Among other things, according to the report, there is enough residential capacity within the boundary for that many more homes, if cities and counties complete the land-use plans they have adopted or are considering. The most ambitious one is the comprehensive land-use plan update headed to the Portland City Council for approval. It envisions 123,000 new housing units being built in the city during the next 20 years, with up to 80 percent of them being multifamily buildings — mostly apartments.

Officials with the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland have repeatedly questioned whether the goals can be achieved, especially since historically, most residential construction in the region has been single-family homes. A study last year by Metro, the association and other partners found a strong preference for single-family homes among regional residents. But the report says demographic changes are occurring that favor more multifamily housing than in the past, including trends toward lower incomes and smaller families.

However, the report also says Metro should make its next growth boundary expansion by the end of 2018 — three years earlier than allowed by law. This will allow the council to review whether the report's assumptions are accurate and make adjustments if they are not.

The report says the land-use planning system is changing, and the region must adjust to it. The 2014 Legislature designated urban reserves in Washington County where growth can occur during the next 50 years. Metro is still in the process of designating urban reserves in Clackamas and Washington counties. When they are designated, the reports says, the region should establish a process for approving incremental expansions into all of them.

The report also says the regional land-use planning process should shift from the current periodic schedule to an ongoing discussion where cities and counties are more fully involved.

The HBAMP officials praised the suggestions in their statement.

“We appreciate the tough job Metro has in managing our region’s land supply. In our initial review of Metro COO Martha Bennett’s recommendations, we are glad to see many important issues raised and recommendations made related to how Metro needs to look at things differently going forward in managing and balancing our region’s growth,” Bond and Standring said.

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