Urbanists plan Portland UGB expansion

Urbanists are directing the planning process for a 12,000-acre addition to the Portland urban growth boundary (UGB). Otak, a Portland-based planning and urban design firm, is leading the project, and the design team included new urbanists Laurence Qamar, Bill Dennis, and James Wassell. The team created eight plans, including detailed block and street diagrams for several neighborhoods and town centers. The scenarios will be combined by Otak into a single plan that will be publicly evaluated in the fall, according to Joe Dills, project leader for Otak. The 18-square-mile planning area makes up approximately two-thirds of an 18,000-acre addition to the UGB approved by the regional governmental entity Portland Metro in 2002. That is by far the largest UGB expansion approved by Metro to date, Dills says.

Portland’s UGB has been criticized by new urbanists, including Andres Duany, for controlling growth but not discouraging sprawl inside the boundary. The development inside of the UGB, with a few exceptions built since the mid-1990s, looks much like development in and around any other US city. This planning process is designed to circumvent that result. “We are using the best of what we see in the Portland area as models, including Orenco Station, Fairview Village, and infill development on the light rail corridors,” Dills says.

The codes that are eventually put in place to guide development will play a vital role in determining whether the new growth will meet or exceed those high standards. Officials in two municipalities where the planning area is located will have final say over zoning decisions. Damascus, one of the two, is a new municipality that has never adopted zoning, Dills says. “That’s a huge opportunity,” he adds, because officials are looking at adopting a form-based code that could strongly support the plan.

The other municipality, Happy Valley, has conventional zoning that has been revised in recent years to incorporate smart growth concepts, Dills says. It’s too early to tell the extent to which the zoning in this municipality will support the planning effort, he says.

Another question mark is Measure 37, the Oregon law approved by voters last year that says property owners must be compensated for changes in zoning that negatively affect property values. The baseline for Measure 37 is zoning that was in place prior to initial adoption of the UGB in the 1970s. Measure 37 will not greatly affect this project, Dills comments, because the plans call for increased densities and hence higher land values. But that’s not to say that the law will have no impact. The planning area is comprised of valleys and mesas. Designers called for directing development to the valleys and protecting the forested hillsides of the mesas, and this idea resonated with residents and officials, Dills says. Measure 37 makes protecting the mesas more difficult, he adds. u