UGB Expansion in the Portland Metropolitan Area
A constantly moving, broken target, the Portland Metro Area Urban Growth Boundary process is a farce.
Established in the late 1970’s, the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) was created to plan for growth in the Portland Metropolitan Area. In Oregon, Washington, Tennessee and a smattering of cities throughout the US, urban growth boundaries are artificial lines set by a public process to determine where growth will be allowed in a given area. In the Portland Metro Area, the boundary is set by Metro Regional Government. The process requires a great deal of analysis, public input and too often legal proceedings to complete and is generally done once every six years.
The UGB is supposed to provide a minimum of 20,000 acres of vacant land for development over a 20-year period. This includes development of employment and housing areas, while ostensibly protecting existing agricultural land from development, thereby creating balanced land use needs. The boundary has proven to be a political football used to protect lands coveted by certain political and economic forces while also advancing “no-growth” principles held by political interests. Poor application of the boundary for years by Metro has led to a lack of housing choice, inclusion of unbuildable/unaffordable land to the inventory and ultimately to the current housing crisis we find ourselves in today.
Consider the following:
- In 2002, Metro added the Damascus UGB Area and the Springwater UGB area for development. Nearly 20 years later, little to none of that land has been developed because of massive topography and infrastructure finance hurdles. Housing advocates made the case then and continue to make the case now that these lands need to be removed from the inventory because they simply are not realistic to develop. Metro has made no move to make a change, despite overwhelming evidence these lands are not developable now or in their 20-year horizon.
- The infrequent addition of land leads to land shortages, followed by the addition of large geographic areas with no infrastructure. This cycle creates a situation where the cost of developing land in a new UGB area is enormously high. Current residents in the North Bethany UGB paid nearly 60k in infrastructure and permitting costs for the privilege of living in an area that was not prepared for massive expansion. Future residents in South Hillsboro will pay nearly $50k. The average resident in an existing city pays 28-33k.
- Application of the UGB makes the price of land inside the boundary artificially high, leading to poor affordability. When land is added to the UGB, it is immediately at a premium (that is if it can be developed), creating artificial price inflation of the property. The price for land inside the Portland Metro Area UGB is now reaching upwards of $800,000 in some places. This means lots are costing a builder $125k to $150k or more before a home is even built!
- The UGB as it is currently applied is leading to less housing choice and thereby less affordable housing. The stated goal of Metro has always been to increase density within urban areas while promoting a wide diversity of housing types (single family detached, attached, condominiums, townhomes etc). However, a quick examination of the North Bethany expansion shows that diversity is hardly present. Most of the housing in this area is single family detached and costs upwards of $600,000 PER HOME. A small minority of apartments and attached townhomes exist but their rents and costs are exorbitantly high.
Despite these clear deficiencies, Affordable Oregon does support the UGB, just not in its current form. These are among the solutions we intend to advocate for now and in the future:
- Affordable Oregon believes the Urban Growth Boundary process is broken and that major legislative reform is needed. The focus of the Urban Growth Boundary should be measured growth with a focus on the economic cost of developing the land under consideration. The process should be considered on a rolling, annual basis, with preference given to projects adjacent to existing infrastructure. If Metro cannot handle this responsibility, then lets find another way.
- Soils and agricultural considerations need to take a backseat to people. While soil type and agricultural value should be considered as part of the process, their impact on a decision should be less than or equal to a consideration for need determined by existing demand and the need for affordability.
- NIMBYS Must Be Stopped. The ability of NIMBY groups to appeal the UGB process just to hold up a decision and delaying implementation of a final decision needs to be addressed either through higher fees for appeal or the implementation of prevailing party legal fees. It’s time to throttle back the influence of neighborhoods and individuals with an axe to grind.
- An honest and real UGB. A mechanism for removing land from the existing inventory if an infrastructure funding plan cannot be put in place post inclusion in the boundary within a five-year period, plus removal of land if no development has occurred within a ten-year period would be a start. If land is not economically efficient to develop because of its proximity to infrastructure or its natural features, then it should be left out of the inventory.
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