State commission unanimously approves UGB expansion
Reporting from Salem
The Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission approved Metro's most recent urban growth boundary expansion on Thursday, ending one chapter in a years-long process to add more land for development in the region.
Commissioners spent about five hours taking testimony and deliberating whether the Metro Council complied with state law when it added 1,985 acres to the urban growth boundary in 2011.
In the end, they didn't seem entirely convinced it had – but were willing to trust Metro's attorneys and send the matter along toward a likely court challenge.
Commissioner Tim Josi, who pressed for a vote at about 2 p.m. because of an evening appointment in Newport, said it's now up to attorneys from the state Department of Land Conservation and Development, with help from Metro, to prepare for the Court of Appeals.
"The onus is upon them (Metro) to work with Steve (DLCD attorney Steve Shipsey) to develop findings," Josi said. "If they can't do that, they know our decision will be remanded."
The key sticking point, which led to hours of back-and-forth between Metro land use attorney Dick Benner and Commissioner Jerry Lidz, was how Metro decided what part of its 28,000-acre urban reserve to study for the eventual 1,985 acre expansion. Metro gave a thorough look at about 9,800 acres of urban reserves before settling on the 1,985 acres to add.
Lidz pressed Benner to point out where in the legal record it showed how Metro whittled down the 28,000 acres by two-thirds.
Benner offered a litany of responses, saying that there was no need to look beyond the 9,800 acres because many of the urban reserves were so far-flung from the edge of the UGB that they were impractical to study and that the work on studying all 28,000 acres had recently been done as part of the urban reserves designation process that concluded in 2010.
He said the information Lidz was looking for was in the legal record, but had been unable to point it out to Lidz' satisfaction by the time Josi called the question.
In the end, it didn't matter; there was a clear tone on the part of the commission that it was OK giving Metro more leeway than it usually would when it comes to urban growth boundary expansions.
"I would not want to see too rigid of a requirement that all of the urban reserves need a full dress consideration, because I know some of those urban reserves are banked for the more distant future and would not be appropriate to consider in the near term," said Commissioner Greg Macpherson.
Commissioners were more united on the other issues before them on Thursday – whether Metro followed the law in deciding how many new homes the region needed in the next 20 years, and whether Metro needed to do an extremely refined analysis of available employment lands in the Portland region.
Opponents of the expansion said Metro didn't appropriately follow state law in deciding how many people were moving to the region, and thus how much new housing would be needed. For the 2011 expansion, Metro staff tried a new tactic of offering the Metro Council options as to how much growth could occur, and leaving it to the council to decide how much growth to plan for.
Commissioners essentially said Metro's new method was clunky but legal.
"It could have been cleaner, it could have been clearer, it could have been differently organized," said commission Chair Marilyn Worrix, "but I feel they have met the requirements."
Opponents of the urban growth boundary expansion also argued that Metro was required to do a thorough analysis of all the employment land in the Portland region, which amounts to hundreds of thousands of acres of development. Metro said that level of analysis is already required of all of the cities and counties within the region, thus making any regional effort redundant.
Commissioners said they felt that any failure to comply with the state requirement was inconsequential. State rules say the commission can approve an expansion if the areas of non-compliance are "minor in nature."
After the vote, Josi echoed remarks he offered in May, saying the statewide planning program that sets the rules for urban growth boundary expansions was jeopardizing the planning process.
"I'm really pleased that this commission has made an effort to make it as flexible as possible, so it doesn't collapse in upon itself," he said.
Worrix said in some ways, the region has outpaced the state in its ability to handle planning decisions.
"You have a great track record of tackling sophisticated, complex planning problems," she said. "You've got more resources than we have and sometimes we have to play catch-up, so it's not a surprise that we find that sometimes the elaborate, sophisticated and thorough way you do things doesn't match our step-by-step procedure.
"We'll keep learning from each other," she said. "We'll get there."
State regulators lay out legal path for possible UGB approval (June 8, 2012)
LCDC commissioners signal they're likely to approve UGB expansion in June (May 11, 2012)
LCDC FAQ: Looking ahead to Thursday's review of Metro's 2011 UGB expansion (May 9, 2012)
Metro's approaches and Oregon rules lead to state recommendation of UGB remand (April 20, 2012)