The Big Look on Land Use

While the Supreme Court debates Measure 37, the "Big Look" at land use planning - a panel authorized by the last legislature - is getting underway. From the Register-Guard's editorial pages:

Nearly lost in the furor has been the quiet, hopeful start of a comprehensive review of the state's three-decade-old land-use program.

Approved last year by the state Legislature, Senate Bill 82 created a task force to take what has been dubbed the "Big Look" at the land-use planning system. The 10-member panel, whose membership was announced Thursday, will traverse the state, gather public comment and propose initial changes as early as 2007 and comprehensive reforms by 2009.

The need to reform the state's land-use program has become obvious, even to its most ardent supporters. While the existing system has done a remarkable job of preserving farm and forest lands, encouraging compact urban growth and protecting Oregonians' quality of life, much has changed since Senate Bill 100 was approved in the early 1970s. ...

So far, it's off to a promising start. The make-up of the task force is appropriately diverse in both geography and occupations. It includes an orchardist, a land-use lawyer, a city manager and mayor, a county commissioner, a home builder, a timber industry official, a newspaper publisher and a rancher. That's the sort of diversity it will require to produce recommendations acceptable to Oregonians who have been polarized in the debate over Measure 37 and its predecessor, also overturned in the courts, Measure 7.

Also encouraging was Gov. Ted Kulongoski's admonition to the task force to look beyond Measure 37 to the overarching issues that must be examined in order to make Oregon's land-planning system reflect a changing, growing state.

The governor is right: The task force must let the courts resolve Measure 37 and avoid being lured into a quagmire debate over how to rewrite the property rights law.


  • (Show?)

    Ugh. "The need to reform the state's land-use program has become obvious, even to its most ardent supporters. While the existing system has done a remarkable job of preserving farm and forest lands, encouraging compact urban growth and protecting Oregonians' quality of life, much has changed since Senate Bill 100 was approved in the early 1970s. ..."

    The land use system has ALSO changed dramatically since SB 100 was passed in 1973. We've got over 50 uses allowed in "Exclusive" Farm Use zones. We now have the Land Use Board of Appeals. And we made it easier to build a house in rural lands under 1995's HB 3661. We have hundreds and hundreds of pages of adjustments and new laws and rules to deal with the complexities of the land use system, most of which were proposed by those who wanted to weaken the system. If we want to simplify the system, it's going to be less flexible.

    This frame: that the land use system is outdated, is a misnomer popularized by the homebuilders and anti-planning folks. Imagine if the editorial said, "much has changed since the Constitution was written in 1787... the need to reform it is obvious."

    What, specifically, needs to be reformed? What is so obvious? Yes, there are growth pressures, and yes, there are tensions. But Measure 7 and 37 weren't about the land use system for most voters. Most voters still want the same -- or a stronger -- land use planning system.

    Good luck, Big Lookers, good luck.

  • Garlynn (unverified)

    I agree with Evan. IMHO, voters were duped into passing Measure 37. If there are any flaws with Oregon's land-use sytem, however, it may be that it is too easy for cities to add land to their 20-year UGB supply, without thoroughly exploring the possibilities for infill and densification within their boundaries. I take Shady Cove, OR as an example -- one of the fastest-growing towns in the state by percentages during the 1990s, and currently under severe pressure to expand its UGB to allow Californian land speculators to build subdivisions on wildlife habitat to allow wealthy retirees to escape the Golden State. While allowing retirees to resettle is not a problem, paving over wildlife habitat to do so is. Furthermore, the city council and the mayor are all basically on the payroll of the largest developer, and will do his bidding. Where is the protection for wild land in this town that Oregon's land use system supposedly guarantees? If there is one thing that needs to be examined, perhaps this is it. I just hope that the members of the panel are more of the type to preserve the wild land that to side with the billionaire developer who seeks to make millions more off of our fair state's lands.

  • Screwtape (unverified)

    Shady Cove, Oregon?

    Do you want to know why it's growing the way it is? Development pressures like that are the symptom, not the problem.

    The real problem is that land use regulations prevent Medford, Central Point and, increasingly, Eagle Point to identify and supply residential land adequately given growth pressure.

    Look, if you want planning to be a top priority and make Oregon a highly liveable place, you're necessarily making it an attractive place to live to people from other states. If you don't support sales taxes, Oregon becomes a retirement mecca because lack of sales tax offsets the relatively low percentage of wealth (investment income) that the State income tax touches.

    So, high-wealth retirees and a highly liveable state means GROWTH. Get it? So support efforts by cities to expand UGBs and increase land supply. Because the lower the land supply, the fewer options for the poor/low-income to find a place to live. Don't progs support lower income households?

  • Charlie in Gresham (unverified)

    I continue to be confused that the progressive movement in Blue Oregon is so passionate about RIGID protection of the UGB here in the metro area. It has proven to be sooooo hurtful to the lower middle class' dream of home ownership. A tight UGB is really of no concern to the wealthy in our community and only a minor issue with the upper middle class. The UGB tightens the available housing inventory on the market and raises a good many people (I suspect mostly Dems)are priced out of housing options. SO unprogressive.

    I don't get it...but I'm old so maybe I'm missing something.

  • (Show?)

    Actually, we are required to have 20 years of residential land supply inside our UGBs -- our laws require us to not have a rigid UGB. And we are required to create a diverse mix of housing. What we need is stronger enforcement of Statewide Planning Goal 10 (Housing).

    Raw land prices are a small fraction of the overall cost of housing. And if we create communities that people can get around in using different transportation options (read: not costly sprawl), households will save dramatic amounts of money on transportation by not having 2nd and 3rd cars. This has been translated into Location-Efficient Mortgages in some areas of the country, whereby banks will loan folks more housing money if they can show their transportation costs will be lower.

    Finally, Portland's one of the most affordable big cities in the West. Sprawling Salt Lake City and Denver have similarly growing housing prices, and San Fran, LA, San Diego, Seattle, etc. are all much much more expensive.

    Same old discussions. Sadly, The Oregonian's articles on the issue haven't shed much light on them, just perpetuated the he said-she said mentality.

  • Justin (unverified)

    I bet a nice 10% sales tax would curb it a bit. Then again, maybe not.

  • Justin (unverified)

    Yea, but if a town says, "we need a 20 year supply of buildable land at a density of 1 unit per 20 acres," this is not exactly enforcing the spirit of the land use laws. When small-town Oregon keeps plopping down housing subdivision (blobs), separating housing from shopping and jobs, it just exacerbates congestion, traffic, and urban sprawl.

    We really need to start redeveloping our central city/town areas ala mixed use developments, as we are starting to see in places like downtown Medford, Salem, Eugene, Hood River, Corvallis.. Independence... it's a good start, and hopefully will continue because of the concerted efforts of visionary developers working with the communities themselves.

  • Screwtape (unverified)


    State Planning Goal criteria and market reality are entirely two things and they don't mix well, that's the problem.

    Yes, Goal 9 and Goal 10 require that UGBs (not cities or counties, mind you) must have enough land for 20 years of employment and residential lands, respectively.

    The problems with that framework are myriad, and a lot of it has to do with ignorance about how land is parceled, purchased, developed, and what that effect has on the economy. Suppose jurisdiction A is growing and has 20 years of land.

    First off, the instant that a developer secures a parcel or parcels, likely as large as possible to keep costs per unit down, land supply is no longer adequate or 20 years. That amount is then fixed until the next Goal 10 review - typically every 5 years. Each time a developer of any stripe (luxury or affordable) ties up a parcel of land, that's a reduction in fixed land capacity AND a winnowing of parcels by desirability (suitable topography, better location, lower cost, etc.) So the fixed supply becomes smaller and smaller in the five-year interim, gets less and less conducive for development (steeper parcels and expensive-to-entitle push home prices higher) to where even though there may be some land left, it's the scraps that are tough to justify.

    Enter all the public subsidy for transportation, tax abatement, outright grants, etc. to get infill and redevelopment to occur on less-than-ideal properties. The system aims for lofty goals, but truly unintended consequences of scarcity, higher prices, and higher public outlays to band-aid the problem with subsidized housing and Pearl District largess are seriously problematic.

    That's why the system needs to be reformed. And I didn't even get into Goal 9 employment land issues.

  • Screwtape (unverified)

    Oh, and one other thing.

    Land prices are indeed a much larger part of home price than many think, particularly in the Portland metro area. True, for highly dense development like Pearl condos, land per unit costs are getting smaller in many cases.

    But in the suburbs, where far more people are moving and buying homes, land prices per unit are flying skyward. It is the only reason that insanely close-quartered single-family homes and condo/townhouses are being built nowhere near any discernable amenity like public transpo, shopping, etc.

    The UGB certainly has created more density, but it has been land price effects more than anything else.. not enlightened buyers, not wishful thinking. Quality, choice and affordability are thrown out the window.

  • colorless green ideas (unverified)

    people often complain about the subsidies granted to high density development, but those same folks often overlook the hidden subsidies granted to low-density "sprawl". for example, when you don't have defined planning within a ugb, you get "leapfrogging" due to property speculators, this not only increases the cost of adding municipal services (water, gas, electric, roads, schools, etc), it also forces others to move even further out, adding the additional costs of more car travel and more air pollution. what's more, those big suburban homes are notiriously energy inefficient, creating a higher demand for energy resource, but benefitting fewer people. on the other hand, land speculation (or plain dereliction) within the urban core is a huge waste of space, placing parking lots, and rotting buildings. perhaps the biggest subsidy of all is all that roadside parking... think of the market value of all of that land!

    so when people complain that the market demands lower-density housing for families with children, i say fine, but let the price reflect the actual cost. let the developers buy-in to the municipal services by paying their share, or let them build energy efficient buildings so they can avoid those fees, and save everyone money. let the speculators pay a higher tax rate on the land-value, than the building value.

  • Justin (unverified)

    Umm... isn't that the point of the UGB? Increase land prices until developers start building at a higher density than they used to? What else will get people to build at a higher density and to stop wasting land, then an economic incentive?

    Isn't this how its supposed to work?

    People aren't going to suddenly decide to live in 400 sq ft. mud huts again just to be nice to the environment, no matter what the hippies say.

  • Garlynn (unverified)

    To screwtape & others who argue that, basically, expanding the UGB is the only way to get affordable housing, and that basically suburbs are good and planning is bad:

    I brought up the Shady Cove example for a very good reason: An out-of-town Californian billionaire developer basically used money to install a mayor and city council friendly to himself. They allowed him to develop land that otherwise would not have been developed, and are now fighting to expand the UGB so that he can build on more land adjacent to this development. The development will feature, mainly, half-million-dollar homes for wealthy retirees, and it will also likely result in the town constructing a water system that current residents will need to pay to connect to, rather than using their existing, fully-functional well systems. This is because, while the existing town sits on top of a high-quality aquifer, the wealthy developer's land sits on top of a hill that is not underlain by an easily-accessible aquifer.

    So, to continue on this example, expanding the UGB will not bring low-cost housing to Shady Cove. It will bring high-cost homes for wealthy retirees.

    Am I opposed to growth? No.

    Am I opposed to high-cost homes for wealthy retirees? No.

    Will building high-cost homes for wealthy retirees provide more low-income housing for existing residents? No.

    Will expanding the UGB bring low-cost homes to the town? No.

    Will expanding the UGB raise the cost of living in the town for existing residents? Yes. (Because they will need to tax themselves at a higher rate to pay for the additional services needed to serve the new development.)

    Isn't this exactly the scenario that Oregon's land use laws were supposed to protect against? Yes.

    Finally, the point of all this is that Shady Cove has plenty of land within the existing town, already served by water, to accommodate new construction that will provide both affordable housing for the existing residents, their offspring, and new in-migrants who require it to work at the service jobs in town, and new housing for wealthy in-migrants who want to come and enjoy the quality of life in the town.

    The only problem is, the billionaire won't make quite so much money if he's not allowed to develop all of his land straddling the UGB on the hills above town, which is of course wildlife habitat for the deer, birds of prey and other wildlife whose very presence is part of what contributes to the very quality of life that people are looking for when they move to Shady Cove.

    Conclusion: Infill development at reasonably high densities within the boundaries of our existing cities will likely accommodate all of the projected growth for the state in the foreseeable future, if it's done right. And if land prices go up within the urban areas as a result, that's great -- existing land owners gain equity, allowing them to make improvements to their property, fueling the economy in the process, and contributing more services for existing residents by allowing more people to create more demand within the same space, while minimizing the amount of new public infrastructure that needs to be built using tax dollars.

  • Beelzebub (unverified)

    Garlynn is misguided and/or misinformed on so many fronts, it is hard to keep track. The fact that high-end homes can be built on land brought into the UGB reduces the price pressure on land within the UGB. A lot of conclusions are made by proclamation, almost none of which are reasoned or substantiated. Nice conclusion, based on nothing but assertion and faulty reasoning.

  • Beelzebub (unverified)

    I forgot to mention the regressionary impact of Garlynn's post. Sure, property owners gain, at the expense of renters. Guess which ones have more resources?

  • Garlynn (unverified)

    Beelzebub writes: The fact that high-end homes can be built on land brought into the UGB reduces the price pressure on land within the UGB." ...and... "Sure, property owners gain, at the expense of renters. Guess which ones have more resources?"

    Both of which indicate his lack of experience with the example town, Shady Cove. In that town, building high-end homes will not reduce the price pressure on land within the UGB. On the other hand, the net effect will be to cause land values to rise. Why? Most real estate assesments are strongly influenced by the value of recent sales within a certain distance of the assessed property. If high-end homes are built and sold for three-quarters of a million near other existing homes, the assessment of the existing homes will go up.

    Just like to point that out. Basicaly, home prices will go up. Period. They'll either go up due to one market pressure or another, but they will go up.

    As for property owners vs. renters... in Shady Cove, renters have few choices in terms of rental stock to rent from, and most of it is rather old and run-down. If there were more in-fill development within the existing town footprint, some of it could potentially be multi-unit or otherwise built for the rental market... which would do a lot more to help ease the renter's burden than high-end homes on the edge of town.


    I don't know why beelzebub insists on personal attacks, it's not necessary between participants in this forum. I would say that he'd be better off in California, though, if he hates UGBs so much. Leave Oregon for the Oregonians who respect its traditions and planning laws.

  • Jerry (unverified)

    Evan and Others:

    The controversy about Land Use, UBG, M37 is more than the expanding UBG. You also need to look at the small incidences that people experience every day to build something, anywhere in our state.

    Example: A client of mine wants to build just a 10ftx15ft den addition onto the side of their residence. Because the project exceeded the max lot coverage by a small percentage, we started with a variance process (1 month), paid fees, etc.; then staff decided it should be processed through a design review process (2 to 3 months). And you should see the stack of papers, full architectural drawings, etc. required by the city. We paid additonal fees ($2000), a full survey($1800), architectural costs. The total will be at least $7000T for this process; and to build a $25,000 additon. 25% of acost in "land use planning".

    And I can give you twenty more examples like this that explains that the average person may like "land use planning" but is seeing the reality of it all. architects time, etc. For a $25T additon there will be over

in the news 2006

connect with blueoregon