Portland Business Journal I April 30, 2015
A recent decision by the Land Use Board of Appeals caused me to reflect upon where development occurs, and whether we in Oregon are doing it right.
LUBA has just affirmed that the Lake Oswego City Council was correct in its approval of PHK Development’s proposed mixed-use development in downtown Lake Oswego. A small but vocal and local opposition provided the impetus for the appeal to LUBA.
There was opposition to where the development was projected to go. But the “where” of locating developments was established many years ago.
In 1973, a far-sighted Oregon governor, Tom McCall, and bipartisan allies in the Oregon legislature established a long-term approach to land use in our state. Our local Urban Growth Boundaries resulted from the first set of statewide land use laws in the nation, which required all urban areas in Oregon to define legal boundaries and have a long range plan to address their future growth.
In 1978, Portland voters created Metro. Today, our ever-vigilant regional government uses the UGB zoning tool to help ensure orderly, residential and commercial development occurs in the tri-county area, while productive agricultural lands, forest lands and wildlife lands are protected outside the UGBs.
Portland’s growth is forecast as inevitable, yet agriculture and its trading dollars are a key component of Oregon’s economy.
So how much should we expect our major city population to grow, and how do we protect our farmers and their valuable products, and preserve our habitats through that growth? Can we balance it all and avoid the urban sprawl to which so many other U.S cities have fallen victim?
My early background is in family farming. I grew up spending many hours milking cows and doing the chores associated with a working farm. I subsequently worked in my family’s construction business, and then later chose a career as a real estate developer. It is from the perspective of farming and building that I explore how Tom McCall’s vision of comprehensive planning is playing out 40 years later.
Agriculture now accounts for between 10 percent and 15 percent of Oregon’s gross state product and provides one in every eight jobs. Eighty percent of our state’s agricultural and food products leave the state and come back as revenue. Nursery crops alone represent about three-quarters of a billion dollars’ worth of value and Oregon is one of the top exporters of nursery products in the nation.
We grow quality food products and produce high-end timber from our forest lands that is sought after both nationally and internationally. The productive fields and farms upon which these economically valuable products grow and in which farmers and owners have made huge investments must be preserved.
The end result of Urban Growth Boundaries today should be to drive investment and growth back into existing towns and neighborhoods, so as not to encroach upon agriculture, forests and wildlife.
This, of course, will be balanced with the need for those boundaries to gradually and responsibly expand to accommodate growth and the expected housing deficit. Every few years, Metro re-evaluates the UGB to make sure metropolitan Portland has enough land for the next twenty years of projected growth.
We must not bury our heads in the sand. Portland and its environs will grow and more people will want to live in downtown locations with close proximity to their jobs. Planners project that over the next 20 years, an additional 30,000 jobs will be created just in the South Waterfront, the Pearl District and Goose Hollow and all areas in between. Additional livable communities will most certainly be needed. Creating them inside a boundary is doing it right.
Compact livable communities promote investment in already existing roads inside the boundaries and redirect money for new transportation systems back into the central city – and we all benefit.
Creating a well-designed, efficient public transportation system, minimizing the use of cars and encouraging bicycle use significantly contributes to air quality. City neighborhoods with well-designed mixed-use buildings create a sense of Main Street. As our life patterns change, social contact becomes important. Access to parks, open spaces and gathering spaces encourages a sense of belonging and opportunities to interact. People working, shopping, playing and living within close proximity creates a healthy sense of community and frequent exchange of ideas and views.
Not to be forgotten are the economic advantages to city and county in development fees and increased property taxes, which add benefit not only to roads and parks but also to schools, fire and police protection.
In my opinion, and 40 years after his visionary land use reform, Tom McCall would love all the farmers’ markets in metropolitan Portland. He would appreciate the economic advantages to Oregon of the preservation of farmland outside the UGBs.
And he would appreciate the evolution of the state’s major city into a leading economic sector that garners national accolades for its environmental focus, even as it develops inside the urban growth boundary.
Tom McCall was a visionary, and to answer the question above — we are doing it right in Oregon!