You may already know about Portland’s unique system for doling out development worthy land, but if you don’t the process is handled by an agency known as Metro and those areas that can and can’t be developed are separated by an invisible line known as the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB).

OREGONIAN 2009Metro meets every six years and decides if they have enough usable dirt to allow for both commercial and residential development for the next 20 years. Depending on their decision, more land is brought into the UGB or the UGB stays where it is.

Though this process sounds straight forward, it is often the subject of intense debate as both sides of the argument have very strong opinions about how much land should be brought in and where that land should be located. The last time Metro voted, for instance, was in 2015 and they voted to keep the UGB where it was and to place an emphasis on higher density. In short, they decided that Portland should build upward and not outward.

As you can imagine, on one side you had developers, builders, and new home buyers frustrated at the potential lack of traditional housing inventory in a market that is both explosive and continues to trend upward. On the other you had legislative bodies and those who sympathize with the protecting of rural land, avoiding sprawling cities like LA that were very happy about Metro’s verdict. Both sides had valid concerns, but ultimately Metro decided to leave the UGB where it was and wouldn’t be slated to review their decision again until 2021.

This way of doing things may be amended next year, however, as a new piece of legislature, put together by a growth management taskforce in response to concerns expressed in many jurisdictions around the Portland/Metro area, is going to be voted on.

The new legislature would call for a midway revision of the decision that would allow for up to 1000 acres of land in targeted areas to be brought into the Urban Growth Boundary. This would serve two main purposes. It would bring more land in the UGB that could in turn be developed and, more importantly, it would bring in land that is currently “development ready” that could then be used to bring development to land that is already inside the UGB, but lacks the infrastructure requirements to develop it.

This strange dichotomy exists because Metro’s expanding of the UGB is governed by State Law, which doesn’t always allow the land best suited for development or closest to current development to be brought in. Instead, we have large swaths of land currently inside the UGB who’s cost to develop is currently too great. By bringing in land that is currently ready for development into the UGB we could see, in some cases, a natural bridge that would bring infrastructure toward those pieces caught in limbo as development would have a clear path to get there.

Though the verdict is still out, this could be a great compromise for those on both sides of the argument. It also makes a great deal of sense when considered as a balancing act to help bring development to areas currently in the UGB but that are unusable until infrastructure arrives. Allowing builders and developers to develop inventory that is already inside the UGB would most likely take the pressure off of Metro in 2021 as it would allow for a much more efficient use of Portland’s land currently in the UGB and Urban Reserves.

Currently the task force has given a unanimous thumbs up to bring this to the legislature. We will keep you updated on further news regarding this legislation. The task force is scheduled to meet again in January.