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Metro’s radical new idea for more housing

Beaverton generic development construction housing mountainside high school

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Metro is fundamentally changing how it decides to expand the urban growth boundary where new development can occur.

The changes are intended to help assure that more housing will be built in the region over the next few years. This year for the first time, the elected regional government will consider requests from cities with specific plans to expand into urban reserves that have been set aside for future growth.

In the past, Metro decided whether the area within the existing boundary had enough zoned capacity to accommodate the projected growth over the next 20 years. If not, UGB expansions had to prioritize land that wasn’t suitable for farming or forests. As a result, some previously approved expansion areas had no realistic plans for future development and have only grown fitfully, if at all.

The new process was presented to the Metro Council at a Tuesday work session. It will apply this year to requests being submitted by five cities. Beaverton, Hillsboro, King City, Sherwood and Wilsonville have submitted preliminary requests for a combined 2,817 more acres for new development. They could accommodate up to 19,000 new homes, most of which would be built within the next 10 years, the cities say.

Detailed applications from the cities are due May 31. They must be accompanied by completed concept plans.

As explained in the work session worksheet, the applications will be reviewed by a City Readiness Advisory Group appointed by Metro President Tom Hughes. It will include equity, affordable housing, infrastructure funding, public planning and residential development experts.

The committee will meet twice in June 2018, once for a kickoff meeting and once to discuss city proposals. The members will use their expertise to identify the strengths and weaknesses of city proposals, but will not rank the proposals or weigh in on the need for expansions.

When it considers the applications, the Metro Council will also consider how well they comply with other standards it adopted in December 2017. At the time, some councilors said they wanted to make sure cities commit to developing their urban centers before seeking UGB expansions.

“In an effort to improve how growth is managed, the Metro Council will be looking for cities to make compelling cases that needed housing will be built, both in existing downtowns as well as proposed expansion areas,” says Metro Principal Regional Planner Ted Reid. “Because some past expansion areas remain undeveloped, the council will want to hear how the cities intend to pay for roads, sidewalks, pipes and parks and how the proposed housing will match people’s needs. This is all part of our effort to protect farms and forests and make the most of what we have.”

Affording housing crisis

The changes are happening as the region is facing a severe affordable housing crisis. It is caused in large part by population increases that are exceeding the availability of housing.

In their preliminary requests, most of the five cities say the proposed expansions would result in complete new neighborhoods with homes, retail centers, open spaces, bike and pedestrian trails. King City says its request would also result in a new Town Center with three- to five-story buildings, restaurants and other gathering spots, and a new City Hall.

The five requests would consume a little more than 10 percent of the 23,000 acres that have been designated as urban reserves, which are supposed to provide enough land for 50 years worth of growth. They are as follows:

• Beaverton is asking to develop the entire 1,242-acre Cooper Mountain Urban Reserve. In a Dec. 21, 2017, letter to Metro, Mayor Denny Doyle said expansion could accommodate 3,700 new homes in the rapidly growing area that already includes a new high school and multiple new subdivisions in south Beaverton.

• Sherwood intends to ask for a 626-acre expansion in an area known as Sherwood West. In a Dec. 22 letter, City Manager Joseph Gall said the expansion will accommodate up to 5,155 homes over the next 20 years. A new high school is under construction in the area.

• King City intends to ask that the UGB be expanded to include all 528 acres in Urban Reserve Area 6D. In a Dec. 22 letter, Mayor Kenneth Gibson and City Manager Michael Weston said the area can accommodate 3,300 new homes in four new neighborhoods over the next 10 to 15 years, and perhaps up to 8,000 over time.

• Wilsonville intends to ask for a 271-acre expansion in an area known as Frog Pond South and East. In a Dec. 22 letter, City Manager Brian Cosgrove said the expansion will allow the creation of two neighborhoods with up to 1,322 new homes, adjacent to the existing Frog Pond West.

• Hillsboro intends to ask for a 150-acre expansion in the area known as Witch Hazel Village South on the southern edge of the city. In a Dec. 27 letter, Planning Director Colin Cooper said the expansion can help accommodate 850 homes.

The final applications may be different.

Second review in three years

Oregon land use laws require the UGB to always contain enough developable land to accommodate 20 years of projected population and employment growth. The area within the boundary contained about 259,000 acres in 2015, and a population of nearly 1.6 million people. The population within the boundary is estimated to increase to almost 2 million people by 2035.

The last time the Metro Council reviewed the urban growth boundary was in 2015. At the end of the year, the council decided that the boundary did not need to be expanded, in large part because Portland had enough zoned capacity for new multifamily housing to accommodate almost everyone expected to move to the region over the next 20 years.

But that decision was controversial, with local home builders and others arguing that many if not most people eventually want to live in single-family homes — and that a shortage of single-family homes was on the horizon.

Although the council would not have normally reviewed the UGB again for another six years, it promised to conduct the next review in three years, which is why it is happening now instead of in 2021.

The affordable housing crisis has become the hottest political issue in the region since the 2015 vote. Even Metro is getting more involved.

Although it has long required jurisdictions to include such housing in their growth plans, Metro launched its own Equitable Housing Initiative led by Councilor Sam Chase several years ago.

The council is now considering placing a regional affordable housing bond measure on the November 2018 general election ballot. It is currently estimated at $500 million.

UGB by the numbers

• Current size: About 259,000 acres, including rivers and other natural areas.

• Population: About 1,583,000, as of 2015.

• Future UGB population: Projected to be about 1,983,000 by 2035.

• Tentative requested expansions: 2,817 acres.

• Current urban reserves: About 23,000 acres (not all can be developed).

• Current rural reserves: About 269,000 acres.

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN media partner. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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