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UGB Expansion Areas That Can Actually Be Developed
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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 Jamie Howsley, Attorney & Keenan Ordon-Bakalian, Law Clerk

This article was originally published in the January 25, 2019 edition of the Daily Journal of Commerce Oregon. 

Four new urban growth boundary expansions open up 2,181 acres for development of at least 9,200 homes in the cities of Beaverton, Hillsboro, Wilsonville and King City.
 
Hillsboro obtained a 150-acre expansion near Witch Hazel Road, adding at least 850 homes; Wilsonville has 271-acres for adding at least 1,325 homes; Beaverton has 1,232-acres near Cooper Mountain for 3,760 homes; and King City has a 528-acre expansion for a new town center, with about 3,300 residential units near the city’s west side.
 
It is the first expansion of the UGB since 2014. In past growth management decisions, UGB expansions focused on theoretical projections, without much practical analysis of the viability of development in UGB expansion areas. The old decision-making process was partially at fault for Metro's decision in 2002 to expand the UGB to Damascus, which was not practical to develop due to the cost of infrastructure and lack of local government consensus. That decision was so widely regarded as a failure that it prompted a complete overhaul of the state's requirements for Metro's boundary expansions. In 2002, state-mandated formulas told Metro how much land it had to add into the boundary, and forced it to annex in the worst land for farming—hilly, rocky areas close to cities.
 
Metro's new approach acknowledges that development will only occur in areas where there is willing governance and infrastructure finance. Metro reinforced this policy direction with the requirement that the council expand the UGB only into urban reserves that have been thoroughly planned, including infrastructure planning. The 2018 decision by Metro to expand the UGB rewarded the four cities who put forth proposals demonstrating that they had strong governance and infrastructure plans in place to support future growth.
 
This expansion reflected the dire need for more housing in the greater Portland region. Most studies show that Oregon has underbuilt its housing supply by 155,000 units over the past 15 years. Metro has come to recognize that the strong economy and high quality of life of the region have attracted new residents at an unprecedented pace, further compounding the existing housing shortage. It estimates that over the next 30 years, more than 500,000 residents and 279,000 households will be added to the seven-county region—Clackamas, Columbia, Multnomah, Washington and Yamhill counties in Oregon and Clark and Skamania counties in Washington. 
 
Metro also identified a need for additional land in the UGB to address single-family housing demand (attached and detached housing). The recent UGB expansion reflects Metro’s desire to meet this demand, while clinging to its policy that the vast majority of new homes will be built within the existing urban growth area, either on vacant land, or through redevelopment of existing areas. This view underlies the fact that the addition of 9,200 new residences is insufficient to keep up with the existing housing need, mentioned above, and does not address future population growth.
 
The new UGB expansion areas allow greater options for housing and lot size variety, as current redevelopment trends inside the old existing UGB are primarily focused on high density. Expanding the UGB allows developers to meet the demand of people who desire larger lots and space—while also allowing for a variety of flexible housing options—including the portion of the housing market that lies on the spectrum between single-family homes with yards and mid-rise or high-rise housing, including accessory dwelling units (ADU), cottage housing, and townhomes. Importantly, UGB edge areas can have lower densities so as to provide a more natural transition to adjacent rural areas.
 
Although the new UGB expansion does not provide sufficient land supply to address the region's housing crisis, it was a step in the right direction. Incorporating the practical needs for infrastructure and governance will provide a greater diversity of housing and encourage market-based development, as the decision raised the importance of prospective expansion areas having sufficient infrastructure in place, as well as having ready market demand.
 
Moreover, the four expansion areas are near large-scale employment opportunities. The decision by Metro to limit the recent UGB expansion to areas with strong existing and future employment opportunities was a prudent decision to minimize commutes.
 
The recent UGB expansion shows a change in approach from previous decisions. Although Metro has been working to perfect its “outcomes-based” approach to urban growth management decisions since 2010, the new UGB decision represents its most practical expansion to date. The decision is an attempt by Metro to address the region's housing crisis, plan for the current influx of new residents, and adapt to existing market conditions. Metro's ability to meet future housing needs will be contingent on furthering policies of smart, calculated growth when it comes to decisions of where to expand the UGB.
 
The information contained in this article is for the general interest of our clients and friends and should not be regarded as legal advice.  If you have questions, or to obtain more information on this topic, please contact one of our land use attorneys.
 
Jamie Howsley is a land use and real estate attorney at Jordan Ramis PC. Contact him at jamie.howsley@jordanramis.com or (360) 567-3900.
Keenan Ordon-Bakalian is a law clerk at Jordan Ramis PC. Contact him at keenan.ordon-bakalian@jordanramis.com or (360) 567-3900.