Oregon’s unholy alliance between farm interests and land use extremists

Oregon’s land use system, once a leading edge public policy initiative symbolized by urban growth boundaries, has flaws that are becoming apparent as municipalities seek to update their boundaries as the land use laws require.  A report in the Oregonian from 2010 summarizes a major problem neatly:

“many towns in the Willamette Valley began as agricultural communities, are bordered by farms and have nowhere to expand except onto farmland. Groups such as 1000 Friends of Oregon and the Oregon Farm Bureau’s county chapters fiercely oppose development on farmland, and challenge it at every step. In many cases, the process is strung out for years by costly revisions and court arguments. “

Of course Willamette Valley cities and towns are surrounded by farmland.  Most cities and towns were formed and grew to service the needs of an agriculture based economy.  The Oregonian report continues:

“We’re seeing it up and down the Willamette Valley, it’s the opposite of why we created land-use planning in the first place,” McCurdy says. Expanding an urban growth boundary, or UGB, requires a series of precise population, jobs, infrastructure and transportation analyses and projections, all of which can be picked apart by opponents. If one is found lacking, findings based on it fall down as well.

“It’s probably the most complicated thing any city can undertake, an urban growth boundary expansion,” says Sam Litke, senior planner in Keizer. “The risk of appeal is great, and a challenge from a sophisticated attorney can stretch it out far longer than the state ever envisioned.”

“Among planning concerns, this is at the top of the list — the cumbersome and problematic UGB expansion process,” says Linda Ludwig, who specializes in land-use issues for the League of Oregon Cities.

The projections required by the expansion process are rough estimates at best. Demographic, economic and regulatory factors can be very volatile.  And how the land use rules are to be applied is somewhat ambiguous.  In 2011 “the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled McMinnville would have to review, and possibly substantially revise, its urban growth boundary expansion plan because it had incorrectly applied state land use law. It maintained that the state Department of Land Conservation and Development had also failed to apply the state law correctly when it approved the city’s expansion plan.”  The city had spent eight years putting together the revised plan.

If a city, in cooperation with a state agency, is unable to put together a good faith growth boundary expansion plan that meets the land use law, the system is broken.  The mantra of zero growth land use extremists to “build up, not out” doesn’t necessarily make sense for rural communities.  Private “watchdog” groups in general are an important part of the process to ensure that municipalities follow the law; but fighting any change whatsoever is irresponsible.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] Economics’ Scott Peterson is quite displeased with anti-sprawl activists who prevent the expansion of communities into farmland, even rural […]

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