PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Metro should expand the urban growth boundary it administers by 2,200 acres to accommodate 9,200 new homes, says Martha Bennett, the elected regional government’s chief operating officer.

The location of the four UGB expansion requests. (Courtesy: Metro via Portland Tribune)

Bennett’s recommendation was released Tuesday afternoon ahead of a Sept. 4 work session by the Metro Council on requests by Beaverton, King City, Hillsboro and Wilsonville to expand the UGB adjacent to their boundaries. The recommendation is part of new process for the council to decide whether and where to expand the UGB, which determines where new development can take place in the three-county region.

“These cities have demonstrated governance, infrastructure and market factors that will lead to housing development,” Bennett said. “All four cities are working to reduce barriers to development in their existing urban areas and seeking to improve their engagement with diverse communities.”

The council has the final say on the requests, however. Although it must vote of them by the end of the year, there is no guarantee than any — let alone all — of them will be approved. During a July 17 work session on the requests, some councilors were concerned the expansions would not produce enough affordable housing.

For example, according to Metro, King City’s proposal calls for $88 million in pipes, parks and main roads, a number that doesn’t include costs for new schools or local streets. Their proposal calls for around $34,000 in development fees per new home to pay such costs, with lower costs for more inexpensive housing – which will still add to the cost of that housing.

In the recommendation, Bennett also called on cities to allow more types of housing in their expansion areas. She called on cities to encourage construction of accessory dwelling units in expansion areas, including removing legal barriers to construction of ADUs in new communities.

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King City Mayor Ken Gibson insists his city is committed to helping create a wide variety of housing if the request is approved, including housing affordable to households earning less than the area’s median family income.

The decision-making process is new for both Metro and the cities. Under state land-use planning laws, Metro must make periodic adjustments to assure a 20-year supply of buildable land within the UGB. Originally, in order to preserve as much farm and forest lands as possible, the council only expanded the boundary onto “marginal” lands, even if they were not suitable for development. As a result, not much housing has been built in some of the previous expansion areas, despite the regional shortage of homes for sale, which is contributing to the affordable housing crisis.

The four requests now being considered by the council were submitted earlier this year. The Sherwood City Council withdrew a fifth preliminary application in the face of community opposition.

The largest request is from Beaverton, which wants to expand onto 1,232 acres in the Cooper Mountain urban reserve area for 3,760 homes. The next largest request is from King City, which wants to add 528 acres in the Beef Bend South area for 3,300 homes. After that, Wilsonville wants to expand onto 271 acres in the Advance Road (Frog Pond) area for 1,325 homes. And Hillsboro wants to expand onto 150 acres in the Witch Hazel South area for 850 homes.

A Metro staff report says the proposed developments could reduce owner-occupied home prices slightly in the Portland area.

“If developed, the four proposed UGB expansions would result in modest reductions in housing prices for owner-occupied housing by providing additional housing supply,” reads the draft 2018 Urban Growth Report released July 3.

But when it adopted the new process, the council also added requirements it wanted to see addressed in the requests.

In addition to explaining who will pay for the needed infrastructure improvements, the cities must address such things as whether they have reduced barriers to mixed-use; encourage walkable development in their downtowns and main streets; and implemented best practices for preserving and increasing the supply and diversity of affordable housing in their existing urban areas.

In her recommendation, Bennett said the cities understand the requirements.

“Beaverton has demonstrated its commitment to removing barriers to development in its downtown. With Metro grant assistance, the city is embarking on an anti-displacement housing strategy,” Bennett wrote. “With its diverse population and commitment to equity, the city’s work on this program is essential.”

Even if the council approves all the requests, the 9,200 new homes they might make possible are just a fraction of the 300,000 more homes of all kinds the Metro report says are required by 2038.

“We need more housing, particularly housing that is affordable to people with modest means,” reads the report. “We need a greater variety of housing to match our changing demographics; we need more middle-income jobs; and, we need to do a better job of engaging diverse communities in decision-making.

A public hearing on the requests and Bennett’s recommendation will be scheduled for the fall.

Read Bennett’s recommendation