Metro: Bob Stacey rocks it on land use

Carla Axtman

Having spent many a night poring over documents and testimony and maps related to the Urban and Rural Reserves, I was interested to read about the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce breakfast forum held last week between Metro Chair candidates Bob Stacey and Tom Hughes.

As the former Mayor of Hillsboro, Hughes is an ardent advocate for snatching up more of Washington County's high value farmland and turning it into commercial and residential real estate. It's essentially Hughes' plan for job creation for the Metro area, in fact. He supported the badly drawn Bragdon map for urban reserves, which chews up ridiculous amounts of land for likely urbanization.

Raymond Rendleman, The Clackamas Review:

“I’m the guy who believes we should make our existing land supply work,” Stacey said, pointing out the millions of square feet of underused and vacant real estate. “We’re deferring that problem if we keep on going out to the boundaries for more land.”

Hughes shot back by arguing that Oregon’s above-average unemployment will only turn around with a real-estate infusion.

“We can’t afford to blow off the expansion land,” he said. “The concern that I have based on my experience growing jobs in Hillsboro is that we need a balanced approach... Bob has carefully and thoughtfully looked at the problem of job creation–I have actually been involved in that process.”

"Balanced approach"? Hughes told me in a previous interview that Washington County needs 3-4 one hundred acre parcels in order to accommodate the next Intel, Solarworld, Nike or Genentech. Others have told me that they've heard Hughes say between 7-9 one hundred acre parcels. Yet there's little or no discussion by Hughes (that I'm aware of--and I hope his campaign will stop by here and correct me if I'm wrong) about using the land already inside the Urban Growth Boundary--specifically the hundreds of thousands of square feet of empty commercial real estate and land sitting in Hillsboro and Beaverton. And why there isn't a substantive discussion happening at the Washington County level about encouraging small business (and large business) in the downtown areas of Hillsboro and Beaverton. Both cities have downtown regions that are beginning to crumble (I know of at least one candidate for office that was given space in downtown Hillsboro for FREE, because it's virtually impossible to rent it out right now). And there is at least one enormous plot (known as the St Mary's property) that's near already established residential development--but still Hughes looks to the rural, ag areas of Washington County instead. It's senseless, in my opinion.

If this is Hughes notion of "balanced approach", then I'd hate to see what he thinks pandering to developers looks like.

Stacey, on the other hand, is actively articulating the need to use the massive amount of existing land we already have--and reinvigorate these areas to make them attractive to business.

What we really can't afford is to blow off what we already have in favor of building huge commercial buildings/offices that are only accessible by driving (which is what building out in the middle of Cornelius at the north of Council Creek is--as is building on Scotch Church Road or any number of these other agriculture areas that aren't near any substantial residential development whatsoever), especially since Washington County can't support the traffic they have now.

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    You're absolutely right, Carla. Thank you for this.

    This race presents a very clear choice, with two candidates that couldn't have more different approaches to the job.

    Bob Stacey understands how to bring our region into the future rather than lash us to the past.

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    Hughes shot back by arguing that Oregon’s above-average unemployment will only turn around with a real-estate infusion.

    This may be true in some places, but overall I seriously doubt it's the case. I look around in Bend and all of Central Oregon at home prices continuing to plummet. We have a glut of homes and land, what we need is real jobs and smart infrastructure planning is a huge part of that. There will be no real-estate unfusion without jobs out here and wager that's true for most of the state.

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    Even though I'm not all that familiar with the industrial/commercial lot availability in the metro area, I did want to point out a few issues that tend to exacerbate this problem all over the state:

    1.) Just because a lot is empty, doesn't mean it's available or on the market. While there may be property that's zoned appropriately within the UGB, it may not be for sale, or readily available for a company to build on.

    2.) Large-lot users (commercial or industrial) want to buy land that has infrastructure to it, or at least nearby. A large lot may be unsuitable for a company if they face increased construction costs and/or permitting issues.

    3.) If a site has major traffic issues around it, or access problems (or no rail access if that's needed), then the site is once again not viable.

    I currently serve on a committee that's working to formulate a regional approach in Central Oregon to large lot development. We are working with DLCD, and other state partners, to see how we can resolve the above issues.

    The problem with Oregon's land-use system is that it makes the assumption that if industrial land is in the UGB, it's available, and/or shovel ready - but that's not always the case. Businesses want options when looking for property, and they're not willing to wait six months, a year, or longer just to find out if a piece of land they are interested in might be available.

    I agree that we shouldn't develop large lots willy-nilly, but there must be a better process in place that allows large lots to be usable, with few hiccups. From my perspective - as one heavily involved in the Facebook recruitment project (the company purchased 125 acres) - Oregon must find a way to make large commercial/industrial lands readily available in order to be competitive in landing significant companies that create family-wage jobs. Existing lands that have timing and infrastructure issues won't cut it.

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      There are a number of very large lots in Washington County (two off the top of my head that run along the intersection of Cornelius Pass Road and Cornell Road) that are for sale and ready to build INSIDE the UGB. They belong to Intel (as I understand it) and are for sale. The St. Mary's property is enormous (I can't remember the exact acreage, but I want to say it's well over 500) has little in the way of accessibility problems. It runs along Hwy 8 (the TV Hwy), a major arterial in Washington County.

      Add this to the already existing massive square feet of office and industrial space in Washington County--and the senseless mapping of urban reserves in WaCo really comes into focus. Hughes' defense of this mapping is appalling, in my opinion. And it's a disservice to those of us who live there and must deal with the traffic and lack of other infrastructure that this sprawl vision yields.

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      Jason: What is the name of the committee you cite and with what entity is it affiliated?

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    "And there is at least one enormous plot (known as the St Mary's property) that's near already established residential development"

    I live on SW Kinnaman just off 209th so I know of what you speak.

    The cascade policy group (I know, consider the source) claims that area would be great for development but there are inhibitors blocking that...

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      The inhibitors have been the Farm Bureau, as I understand it. They've abandoned those objections and in fact cited that property as an alternative to going out into rural Washington County for urbanization.

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        Here's an update/clarification about the former St. Mary's property, now owned by Newland Communities and commonly referred to as the Reed's Crossing site. (I represent Newland.)

        It is 463 acres on the south side of TV Hwy between 209th (which is across the street from an Intel facility and the built-out Aloha community) and 229th (across the street from the new Rosedale Elementary School and the Roseway Industrial Park.)

        Reed's Crossing is the gateway property in the 1,400-acre South Hillsboro Community Plan ("SoHi Plan.") Designed as a complete, connected and green community, SoHi has been planned to achieve the aspirations set out in Metro's Great Communities initiative.

        The concept plan creates a mixed-use community designed around a town center and a smaller neighborhood center. Walkability, sustainability and affordability are all important concepts in the planning for SoHi.

        The SoHi Plan area includes 335 acres already inside the UGB and the balance of the acreage is designated urban reserve and much of that land has been deemed conflicted land by the Dept. of Ag.

        After an extensive two-year planning effort - that included funding and participation by Metro, other stakeholders and a broad-based citizen review committee - the resulting SoHi Plan was unanimously endorsed in 2008 by the Hillsboro City Council and Planning Commission. The city can't officially adopt the Plan until the balance of the plan area is brought inside the UGB and annexed to Hillsboro.

        SoHi presents the region's best opportunity to actually see a community built in the near-future that can fulfill the planning goals of Metro's Making the Greatest Place. The unique attributes of South Hillsboro should lead even those with a Blue Oregon point-of-view about land-use policy to support the modest expansion of the UGB needed to begin implementing the SoHi Community Plan.

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          I haven't seen the full plan--so I have no opinion at this point. However I will say that this amount of acreage alone covers a good chunk of what the Washington County governments say is needed to cover growth for the next 50 years.

          If the plan is as advertised above, I would think that about 500 acres of current Washington County urban reserves (perhaps North of Council Creek, for starters?) could be moved to rural reserves.

          Thanks for the info, Jeff.

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          Jeff, thanks for joining us here.

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    Thanks for sharing.

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    I've been attending some of the same meetings that Jason has in Central Oregon, and so I've heard a lot of the same presentations. I agree that there's probably ways in which the development of large lots can be better facilitated.

    If a large lot industrial land is brought inside the UGB but it can be easily rezoned to "higher and better uses" then it's value goes up, and it becomes unaffordable for the intended use. That's what happened to most of Bend's industrial land during the boom which is now in a variety of other uses. (There's an easy fix to this problem of course...)

    Another issue is that whether or not Oregon's land use system makes it difficult to bring large lot industrial sites inside the UGB, it's at least perceived to be difficult. And that turns people away. There's a variety of opinions on the degree to which this is the case and I'm sure there's ways to make it easier and streamline the process, but whether or not it needs to be made easier or just clarified, I'm not yet sure.

    I will say that politically-motivated rants about our land use system - and this theme was evident in side conversations during at least one of the meetings I attended - probably don't give non-Oregonian interests a lot of faith that they can do business here.

    So there's two issues to address regarding attracting large lot industrial interests to Central Oregon. Not silver bullets, but important considerations nonetheless. Jason makes some solid points, although I would add that I don't think that it's critical that all the large lot "inventory" needs to be maintained inside the UGB, so long as properly identified land outside the UGB is able to come in when the time is right.

    DIsclaimer: I know there are broader considerations in the Metro Area/Willamette Valley, where developing outwards most likely means developing world class farmland. In Central Oregon - although we do have productive agricultural lands worthy of protection - they're not broadly threatened by urban expansion to the degree that we can't bring a large lot site in here and there...

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    One of the best ways to encourage infill and discourage extensive development is through a differential property tax rate where land within an UGB (assessed at its best and highest use) is taxed at a significantly higher rate than improvements. This discourages owners from holding idle land and, because the tax is capitalized in the land price, reduces sales prices. It also makes improvements significantly less costly.

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    Thanks, Erik, for chiming in.

    I agree that we need to have lots available for future uses that exist outside the UGB. My comment about Oregon's land-use system was to make the point that the existing laws make it very difficult to add large lots to a community's inventory, especially if the state believes there's a plentiful supply. And, again, the problem we face in adding more land is that the system assumes all land that's zoned properly is available and ready for use. I think they're needs to be a greater distinction made between readily available land, and property that's zoned but isn't ready or available for development.

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    Carla -- your attack on Tom Hughes is unfair. Supporting a particular urban reserves line that was the product of long work (and as with all legislation, some compromise), is hardly a flaming "push out the UGB" stand. I went on a City Club sponsored "walk the UGB" (really, a section of it), and Mayor Hughes went along. I found his appreciation of the need for smart boundary decisions to be refreshing, insightful, and certainly not "black and white push the UGB," as you suggest here.

    Moreover, as good as I think Bob Stacey might be at pushing a left agenda on land use, Robert Liberty already does an excellent job on Metro. Personally, I'd prefer someone who brings a different perspective, and whose leadership might generate more buy-in from Washington County voters. That's why I think Tom Hughes is a good choice for Metro.

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      Given that the urban reserves lines supported by Hughes is actually the product of a long process of Washington County allowing the entire vast constituency of its urban unincorporated areas (not to mention a basic ignoring of the concerns of those not wed to development or city governments) to go unrepresented in the planning, I'm having trouble seeing how this comment actually demonstrates that I've been "unfair" to Hughes.

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        For starters, one can hardly say that the existing UGB is a byproduct of Tom Hughes' actions. So just as it's unfair to cast him as the "expand the UGB" candidate, it's unfair to suggest that he's the reason for the lines presently drawn.

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          Nor have I said that the existing UGB is a bi-product of Hughes' actions. But he is in fact the expand the UGB candidate by his own admission--how else are we to get 3-9 one hundred acre parcels in Washington County..?

          He is responsible for what he SUPPORTS, Jonathan.

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    Another problem with urbanization of rural land is that it's incredibly expensive. At least in the Portland metro area, research shows that the cost of providing sewers, water, roads, sidewalks, etc. to accommodate growth at the urban edge is up to twice as expensive as accommodating that same growth in the existing urban area.

    This high cost means big trade-offs: less money to maintain what we already have, less ability to redevelop and improve existing communities, and/or higher costs to everyone.

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      That strikes me less as a "problem" than simply a fact. It is always going to be more expensive to extend infrastructure into unincorporated areas.

      That's not an argument for or against extending the UGB, just a cost that needs to be weighed against the benefits.

      I would love to see a robust debate on the UGB between these two candidates. I find myself decidedly undecided at this point, though leaning towards Jonathan's and Jeff's position. How about a debate over Damascus, for instance, which by my estimate at least has been a huge failure. There is a limit to the ability of Metro to guide/force development into certain areas, and Damascus showed the limits.

      I thought Bragdon was an excellent Metro president, bringing just the right mix of leadership and consensus-building skills necessary to guide such a diverse board.

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