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Southwest Washington – 2001 is coming and will find you
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This article is intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. It is not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.

By Scott S. Anders, Attorney

This article was orginially published in the September 20, 2019 edition of the Vancouver Business Journal. 

Developers, contractors, and local governments all need to gear up for 2001. Lest you think I have lost my mind, I have not. I am not talking about the Stanley Kubrick film but the Oregon House Bill 2001, in which the Oregon Legislature chose to eliminate single-family zoning for cities of over 25,000, and over 10,000 in the Metro area.

Even though this passed through the Oregon Legislature this past legislative season, that does not mean the effects will be felt immediately, and they certainly will not be felt just in Oregon. But the time will come when Oregon’s supply of designated single-family lots and subdivisions grow scarce. As those Oregon properties designated for single families grow scarce, the demands for housing in Southwest Washington will grow at a tremendous rate.

It is that demand that makes it so critical for governments in Southwest Washington to plan now.  Without planning now, the wave of people seeking single-family residences in the not-too-distant future will overwhelm government services in Southwest Washington. Transportation, particularly roads, emergency services, schools, and many other government services will not be able to even come close to keeping up with the services demanded by the influx of population during this transformative period.

This is an opportunity for governments to demonstrate that they are looking forward and can plan competently for such an inundation. Governments can show creative ability in designing innovative solutions to the coming wave, such as traffic corridors through several jurisdictions, emergency services delivered in potentially new ways, and other services, so that the service levels now provided do not decline, and perhaps improve. School districts need to begin looking at locations for new schools to accommodate the anticipated mass of new citizens wanting a single-family residence.

The planning needs not only to focus on the initial impacts of such an influx of people but also plan for the long term. Oregon passed a law that has far-reaching implications for its citizens and for what Oregon will look like in 50 years. Assuming the Washington Legislature does not follow Oregon’s example, the law will equally affect Southwest Washington.

If one assumes that the Washington Legislature will eventually follow suit with Oregon by eliminating single-family zoning statewide, it will be interesting to see whether it lasts, or whether citizens petition to have such a law thrown out. 

Washington apparently takes the approach that localities should make such decisions, at least it has so far. Seattle has largely eliminated single-family zoning within its city limits. If Seattle and Oregon can sustain their model of no single-family zoning while maintaining their industrial/business base, then they may be on to something big.

However, the law of unintended consequences can be fickle. People may move to the country, move to smaller towns, or worst of all, move out of state altogether, as is happening in California (for reasons other than zoning). California’s economy has been very robust, but companies formerly from California have said enough is enough, packed up and left. No one wants that situation in the Northwest.

The planning that needs to happen to make this work in Southwest Washington calls for all levels of government to consider the myriad of challenges they will face. It means cooperation between those various local governments. But make no mistake about it, this effort needs to begin now. 

Scott S. Anders focuses his practice on land use, real estate, and business matters at Jordan Ramis PC. You can contact Scott at (360) 567-3900.

Thank you for your interest in this article. The information contained in this article is for the general interest of the reader and should not be regarded as legal advice. If you have questions, or to obtain more information on this topic, please contact an attorney in our Real Estate Law Practice Group.