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Region's mayors question Metro's density plan

Ad-hoc organization pushes back on housing shift

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Many more apartment buildings like these in St. Johns will have to be built in the region to prevent he Urban Growth Boundary from being expanded, according to a report to be considered by the Metro Council on Thursday.An informal organization representing the region's mayors is questioning whether a proposal to increase density will work — or whether it will push many new residents into outlying areas and increase congestion.

The elected Metro Council is scheduled to consider an in-house report Thursday that says most of the people expected to move to the region during the next 20 years can be housed in new apartment and condominium buildings.

The letter was submitted by the Metropolitan Mayors Consortium Ad-hoc, an informal group that meets regularly to discuss regional issues outside of the Metro process. The letter was approved by 24 of the region's 25 mayors — with only Portland Mayor Charlie Hales opting out. Among other things, the letter says a recent Housing Preference Study commissioned by Metro shows most people want to live in single-family houses. And the letter predicts many new residents will commute long distances to work to live in such homes.

Because of that, the letter says the council should consider encouraging the construction of new "complete communities" near major employment centers. They include a mix of housing types, businesses and such public services as schools.

"The (Housing Preference) Study does not mean the region has to make a choice, as explained by Metro staff, between 'building single-family homes from here to Salem' or implementing the 2040 Regional Plan," the letter states. "Instead, the cumulative results of the Study indicate that the types of development we are seeing and planning for in new urban areas (i.e., with a mix of housing types and nearby amenities for residents — 'complete communities') meets the demands of residents."

Metro's 2040 Regional Plan calls for new development to be concentrated in designated centers and along major transportation corridors in the region.

The council is scheduled to consider whether to expand the Urban Growth Boundary it administers next year. State land use planning laws require the region to have enough buildable land within the UGB to accommodate 20 years of predicted growth. The Urban Growth Report being considered by the council was prepared by Metro planners to help inform next year's decision. It says the UGB does not need to be expanded next year if enough multifamily housing is built between 2015 and 2035.

According to the report, the growth can be accommodated if 60 percent of new housing is apartments and condominiums. That is a reversal of historic trends, where 64 percent of new housing has been single-family homes.

The letter questions whether such a large shift will actually occur during the next 20 years. It also requests Metro to adjust the report to reflect the fact that most people want to live in single-family homes, according to the housing preference study that was completed after it was written. It found that 65 percent of respondents currently live in single-family detached homes and 80 percent prefer to. In contrast, only 28 percent live in multi-family housing and just 13 percent want to.

The letters says negative impacts of the assumed housing shift would include "forcing those looking for affordable single-family housing to move to neighboring communities outside the Portland Metropolitan region, resulting in longer commutes. We have already seen this through increased growth in the neighboring cities of Canby, Sandy and Woodburn."

According to the letter, the longer commutes would undermine another Metro project that is proceeding on a parallel track. The Climate Smart Communities initiative is intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from private vehicles.

The letter also says the urban growth report should reflect the lack of development opportunities in Damascus, the newest city in the region. The report assumes 10,000 homes will be built there over the next 20 years. But the letter notes Damascus voters have consistently rejected the state-required Comprehensive Plan that must be adopted before development can occur. And the new mayor who takes office in January has promised to disincorporate the city.

"It’s been 10 years since Damascus incorporated, during which time the city has seen increased resistance to planning and development efforts. Additionally, Damascus faces challenging and costly infrastructure issues that, without the support of planning efforts, it is not likely to overcome. Given these facts, reliance on Damascus must be eliminated or reduced to ensure that the region can meet its 20-year housing demand," the letter says.

The group of mayors includes Portland's Hales, whose city plans to increase density over the next 20 years. The first version of the letter submitted to Metro included Hales' name and stated that all 25 mayors in the region had approved it. However, Hales later said he had not been consulted and asked that his name be removed.

Portland's Comprehensive Plan is being updated to encourage the construction of new apartments and condominiums in designated centers and along major transportation corridors. That is consistent with the Metro report, which says that 58 percent of all new residential construction will happen in Portland, and that 92 percent of it will be multifamily housing.

The complete text of the letter can be viewed here: here.

The other mayors in the group include: Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis; Gladstone Mayor Wade Byers; Tigard Mayor John Cook; Cornelius Mayor Jef Dalin; Troutdale Mayor Doug Daoust; Happy Valley Mayor Lori DeRemer; Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle; Milwaukie Mayor Jeremy Ferguson; Maywood Park Mayor Mark Hardie; North Plains Mayor David Hatcher; Rivergrove Mayor Heather Kibbey; Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp; West Linn Mayor John Kovash; Sherwood Mayor Bill Middleton; Oregon City Mayor Doug Neeley; Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden; Durham Mayor Gery Schirado; King City Mayor Ron Shay; Wood Village Mayor Patricia Smith; Damascus Mayor Steve Spinnett; Lake Oswego Mayor Kent Studebaker; Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax; Fairview Mayor Mike Weatherby; and Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey.

An earlier version of this story accurately reported that the letter to Metro stated it had been approved by 25 mayors. After the story was posted, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said he had not reviewed the letter and asked that his name be removed. The mayors' group then resubmitted a letter stating that it was from 24 mayors, not 25. Add a comment

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