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Portlanders resist major land-use changes

Survey says urban dwellers push back on development 'sprawl'


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Jim Standring calls the land-use grand bargain an ill-conceived deal because it wont let him develop his farmland in Washington County, where he is standing. Most Oregonians disagree, according to a major 2013 survey.

By the Numbers: An occasional series

Not everyone thinks the land-use “grand bargain” approved by the 2014 Legislature is so grand.

A compromise that resolved land-use planning problems in Washington County was hailed as one of the major accomplishments of the season that adjourned on March 7. It was supported by elected officials, developers, environmentalists and farmers to end the uncertainty created when the Oregon Court of Appeals rejected Metro’s 50-year plan for future growth and conservation in the region.

But Jim Standring and Sandy Baker say the agreement does not meet their needs. Both of them had filed legal challenges in the appeals court to be allowed to subdivide their land. Standring owns 70 acres of farmland in unincorporated Washington County that he wants to develop as residential property. It is at the northwest corner of the Sunset Highway and Helvetia Road. Although Metro had designated the property for future development, the grand bargain prevents that from happening for the foreseeable future.

“I bought that property in 1993 because I knew it was situated for future development. It’s right along the freeway and is already served by utilities,” says Standring, a homebuilder who denounces the grand bargain as “an ill-conceived plan.”

Baker’s family owns 162 acres of farm and forest land in unincorporated Multnomah County that cannot be split among the heirs. The grand bargain left the property in the same condition and dismissed Baker’s lawsuit.

“We’ll just have to keep fighting,” says Baker.

Beauty and scenery

Standring and Baker are in the minority. The 2013 Oregon Values and Beliefs Survey found that most Oregonians want to see existing farm and forest lands preserved. The majority also feels than new development should only occur within existing cities.

Those responses support the basic thrust of Oregon’s land-use planning laws, which began with the passage of 1973’s Senate Bill 100, which created the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission and led to adoption of policies requiring the establishment of urban growth boundaries limiting new development around Oregon cities. Metro, the elected regional government, administers the boundary around the urbanized portions of

Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties.

Support for those policies is especially strong in Portland, which heavily influences some of the regional and statewide responses because of its size.

The survey found that the environment is a top concern among all Oregonians. The state’s beauty and scenery are the top reasons people gave for living here. Environmental awareness is the top reason people believe Oregon will be better 10 years from now. Most residents want productive farm and forest land protected from development. A majority say they are willing to pay more taxes to protect water and air quality.

Although the poll was conducted well before the Legislature’s land-use grand bargain, most Oregonians — 57 percent — said they favor protecting the environment even at the risk of slowing economic growth. That response was heavily influenced by opinions in Portland, however, where 76 percent sided with the environment. Even without opinions of city residents in the survey, a majority — 53 percent of the rest of the region and the state — still agreed.

Most Oregonians — 66 percent — even say they are willing to increase or reallocate their taxes to preserve farm and forest land. Support is greatest in Portland, where 76 percent were willing to do so. That compares to 63 percent of the region and 65 percent of the state.

Portlanders are also much more likely to agree with some of the arguments made for compact urban development. For example, 88 percent of Portlanders agree that climate change requires us to change our way of life, such as driving less or simply living more simply. That compares to 73 percent of the rest of the region and 70 percent of the rest of the state.

Portlanders are also much more likely to support specific policy choices linked to compact urban development. For example, 80 percent of Portlanders agree that new development should occur within existing cities and towns to save farmland and stop sprawl. That compares to 67 percent of the region and 65 percent of the state.

To put it another way, 14 percent of Portlanders fear Oregon will be a worse place to live in 10 years because of sprawl, compared to virtually no one else in the region and the state.

And 75 percent of Portlanders support shifting some funding for road and highway construction towards public transportation, such as better bus service and high speed rail projects. That compares to 31 percent in the region and 44 percent in the state.

A relatively high percent of Portlanders already live a lifestyle that supports compact urban development. Nearly a quarter of them — 24 percent — report living in a multi-unit complex such as an apartment of duplex. That compares to 19 percent in the region and 15 percent in the state.

Revisiting land-use laws

The appeals court ruling came after Metro asked the 2007 Legislature to allow it to set 50-year urban and rural reserves in the region. Working with all three Portland-area counties, Metro completed the designations in 2011. They were approved that year by the Land Conservation and Development Commission but promptly challenged in court by land owners and conservationists, including the 1000 Friends of Oregon land-use watchdog.

The court rejected the designations during the 2014 Legislature. That created uncertainty in Washington County, where Metro had subsequently approved urban growth boundary expansions for new residential and industrial development. The grand bargain redrew some of the urban and rural reserves and ratified the expansions.

During the grand bargain debate in Salem, some legislators said the appeals court ruling proves that Oregon’s land-use system is broken and needs to be revisited in the 2015 session. Most Portlanders — 61 percent — oppose changing land-use policies to allow more development, according to the survey. The rest of the region and the state are almost evenly split on permitting more development, however.

The 2013 Oregon Values & Beliefs Survey is the third in a series of statewide polls on attitudes conducted by Portland’s DHM Research. It was sponsored by the Oregon Community Foundation, Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon Public Broadcasting and Oregon State University. The Portland Tribune requested that Portland responses be separated from the rest of the region and state. The original findings can be found at oregon http://www.valueproject.org.

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