MPAC gets heated as leaders talk about density on the edges
Buried in the political posturing of Wednesday night's meeting of the Metro Policy Advisory Committee was an important policy question: How much housing density should the region expect on its urban fringe?
With mere weeks remaining in Metro's periodic review of its urban growth boundary, MPAC was asked to give the Metro Council a recommendation on if, and how, to expand the urban growth boundary. MPAC is an advisory committee of government leaders and citizens from around the region.
Very early in the meeting, the committee voted 12-6 to support Portland Mayor Sam Adams' recommendation that Metro expand the urban growth boundary by no more than 1,600 acres, giving preference to proposed UGB expansion areas planned to have at least 20 units of housing per acre.
According to Adams, rowhouses on 2,500-square-foot lots will average 16 to 22 units per acre.
Adams' maneuver sent several Washington County MPAC members into fits. Why?
The urban growth boundary expansion process is, in many ways, a beauty contest: The area that best fits Metro's needs and has the best planning is likely to be selected for inclusion in the UGB.
But the plans aren't just developed by bureaucrats in local planning departments. Ultimately, it's developers who have to build on any land brought into the urban growth boundary, and many have reservations about consumer demand for housing that dense.
And elected officials like Washington County Chair Andy Duyck are left holding the bag on getting people from dense housing developments on the edge to jobs in Hillsboro, Wilsonville and downtown Portland.
Duyck called Adams' maneuvering appalling, abstaining from the vote on Adams' motion, saying he didn't want to participate in a flawed process.
"Almost all of you around this table have the ability to accommodate the need for growth within your own jurisdictions. All you have to do is rezoning," Duyck said. "Yet you've chosen to massively increase the density around the edges in areas you don't have to try to serve, and you've done that without making any suggestion that you're willing to give up transportation dollars to take care of it."
If the Metro Council follows MPAC's recommendation, it would have a hard time accepting the 1,000-acre South Hillsboro area into the UGB. That area's planned density is just above 12 units per acre, with larger estates on the edge and denser housing – above 15 units per acre – near the Tualatin Valley Highway and a proposed transit corridor adjacent to it.
Now, South Hillsboro's developers must either quickly revisit their plans or hope the Metro Council ignores MPAC's recommendation.
"You moved the goal post – not a little, but a lot," said Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey. "You probably, for the most part, potentially destroyed every project on the list, and to ask them to reconsider that within the weeks remaining is unrealistic."
Shortly after Adams tweeted about the success of his motion, Hillsboro City Councilor Aron Carleson responded on the social networking site.
"Sam Adams wants to force McHouses for Hillsboro. Seriously? Why doesn't he start with flaglot 3 story infill in Hawthorne, Sellwood, Alameda?" Carleson wrote.
Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle also chastised the late change in density requirements.
"At this stage of the game, to radically change the dwelling unit requirements is not good policy, and it's not the way to do it," Doyle said.
But clearly, advocates of denser growth in urban growth boundary expansion areas won the day. Lake Oswego Mayor Jack Hoffman said denser growth can't happen in neighborhoods because of the region's agreement in the Metro Charter. And, he said, reining in growth on the edge helps existing communities within the region.
"We should focus, and really think about… the Southeast Portlands of this region," Hoffman said. "You go there, and you see… a town center that has been displaced by the kind of efforts that had this fringe development. They have suffered as a result."
Those are some of the key reasons Adams stated in supporting his initial motion.
"It's critically important that we keep a focus on building out the expansions that have already been brought in, that are already expected to become complete and healthy neighborhoods," Adams said.