Metro, the regional planning agency, recently released its recommendations for which parcels immediately surrounding the Portland area should remain rural – and which should be targeted for urban development – over the next 50 years. Any changes in land use would have a huge effect on the nursery industry, which occupies a fair portion of this potentially developable land. Consequently, in a move that reflected the prominence and economic importance of the nursery industry, Metro Regional Planning Manager John Williams met with the OAN Government Affairs Committee last week for an honest, back-and-forth discussion of what exactly is being proposed, as well has how it could affect growers.
“We’re trying to find those hard edges and buffers that can create a buffer between urbanized and non-urbanized land,” Williams told the industry leaders, who included Government Affairs Committee Chairwoman Kathy LeCompte and OAN Past President Bob Terry. Rod Park, an OAN past president and nursery owner who currently serves on the Metro Council, also was present.
The map as proposed includes areas to be available for growth (called urban reserves) as well as areas to be designated off-limits to growth (called rural reserves), but there are other lands fitting into neither category. These are called undesignated lands and they were the source of some concern during the discussion. “Undesignated lands are just as unsettling to people who are more development minded as to people who are preservation minded,” OAN Director of Government Relations Jeff Stone said.
Park noted that the planning horizon of 40 years is a very long time and will likely see a great deal of change, if past history is any indication. “Forty years ago, Gresham had a population of 1,400 people,” he said. “Now the urban growth boundary includes our property line on the back side, and Gresham’s population is 140,000.”
In addition to holding last week’s meeting, Metro has chosen the OAN as the sole representative of agriculture on its Urban-Rural Reserve Steering Committee. The current process of future land use planning was created by Senate Bill 1011, passed in 2007. OAN, the Oregon Homebuilders Association, Metro and others worked together to pass the bill. It arose out of the sometimes-conflicting needs to protect farmland and provide for urban growth, which have dominated regional decision making. Advocates for farming and for housing crafted the bill as a way to provide greater long-term certainty for those investing their lives and resources in farming or in development.
As required by the bill, Metro’s current urban growth proposal is based on input from the three Portland-area county governments (Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington). A group of four officials known as the “big four” is charged with coming up with the final plan. The group includes one member of each of the county commissions and one member of the Metro Council. If they cannot agree then the process ends and officials must use the processes previously prescribed under state law.