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Smiling Faces, Urban Places - Metro Decides Where to Grow

We may be forgiven for not noticing a report issued in the dog days of August from Portland Metro’s Chief Operations Officer, Michael Jordan, recommending the addition of  2,658 acres to the Portland Metropolitan Urban Growth Boundary (“UGB”).  This compares to about 18, 700 acres added in 2002 and about 2,300 acres added in 2004-05.  However, the recommended changes this year are significant and controversial.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Metro has the power to establish and change the regional UGB and generally must choose first those lands within its image courtesy of“urban reserves,” those lands which would be added before any other candidate lands, from an inventory previously established by Metro.  However that inventory determination , made by the four metropolitan counties in 2009, has been challenged and will go before LCDC in September.  It is also likely that any LCDC decision, now scheduled for October 22nd, will be appealed further.  The impacts of a successful appeal are unknown. Five of those areas are scheduled for residential expansion to accommodate 32,050 new dwelling units – near Cornelius, Hillsboro, Sherwood, Wilsonville and Oregon City (the latter represented by this firm), while Hillsboro also gets the nod for an industrial expansion of 310 acres.  The additions are proposed to meet Metro’s obligations to review its population and employment growth requirements every five years for a 20-year planning horizon.  Metro approved these numerical projections last December and the August recommendations flow from them. Metro’s Council must decide both whether the UGB should be expanded and, if so, where.  These decisions have both political and legal aspects.  The legal aspect occurs because any Metro decision is likely to be challenged.  The political aspect involves the intersection of competing methodological and policy issues, including:

  • The accuracy of the population and employment projections – Metro staff recommended the middle third of the possible population projections and a fairly low industrial land needs projection, which may satisfy neither regional boosters, who will see them as inadequate, nor those who feel the recent economic downturn militates towards no justification to add any lands.  Others may feel that Metro’s efforts are inadequate to address what seems like a very long and slow road to recovery.
  • The role of infill and UGB efficiency – Those who feel the region should grow “up,” rather than “out” will chafe at much expansion of the UGB and reject Metro’s claim that existing measures in the report to use urban lands more efficiently are inadequate.
  • The role of affordable housing – In most of the region, including Metro’s reports, affordable housing as it relates to transportation costs as a portion of living expenses, is given lip service, but no real encouragement.  Most of the proposed UGB expansion areas are not anywhere near existing or planned transit.  Ultimately, there is little money and almost no political will to do anything else.
  • Centers and Corridors – Metro has built its planning reputation on reinforcing outward urban expansion from recognized centers.  It is hard to see how the addition of lands at the periphery of the UGB is consistent with this strategy.
  • The cost of infrastructure – This is the elephant in the room.  Do cities want growth and can they afford it?  The scandal of the rejection of growth allocated to Damascus or the incredible infrastructure costs emerging in North Bethany permeates future metropolitan area growth discussions.
Much remains to be said and done regarding the future of the metropolitan area, but notwithstanding all of the platitudes regarding encouraging economic development and providing housing options, watch these topics.  Metro’s Regional growth approach appears to be more of the same.

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