Bend's growth a topic for council

The question: fill in or expand urban growth boundary

By Hillary Borrud / The Bulletin / @hborrud

Published Jan 13, 2013 at 04:00AM

The new Bend City Council that takes office Wednesday could revisit the question of how the city should develop in the future, and whether that plan will include more infill development.

City Manager Eric King plans to ask city councilors as early as February whether they want to change the city’s approach to expanding the urban growth boundary. That could lead to higher-density development within the city limits or a more incremental expansion process, King said. “We have to look at this a little differently moving forward,” King said Wednesday.

The urban growth boundary, or UGB, is the line around a city beyond which urban development is not allowed. For example, Oregon land use law generally prohibits new residential subdivisions and sewer systems outside of cities and requires cities to prove the need for more land.

State officials rejected a city plan to expand the Bend UGB in 2010. The construction slowdown lessened the sense of urgency behind that plan. City planners have been chipping away at fixing the list of problems with the original proposal, but Community Development Director Mel Oberst said Wednesday the city may need a couple of years to present the public with a new plan.

If the council were to pursue higher-density development, it would be a significant change from the positions of previous councils. “Direction from the council in the mid-2000s was get as much land as you can, make it as big as you can,” Oberst said.

State lawmakers might consider changing the UGB expansion process during this legislative session, King said, so it makes sense for the city to proceed slowly until it is clear whether this will happen. King and Andy High, vice president for government affairs at the Central Oregon Builders Association, said the existing process today includes significant problems.

In November 2010, the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission issued the city a final remand order, which laid out changes the city must make to its proposal to expand its UGB in order to meet state land use laws. City officials wanted to expand the boundary by about 8,500 acres. The commission said the city did not prove it needed that much more land.

For example, the city did not provide enough evidence that redevelopment and infill used up the city’s existing land supply inside the UGB. The city also did not prove it had done enough to increase the density of development inside the current UGB, according to the remand order.

“In other words, the City is projecting that much infill and redevelopment will occur at relatively low densities — an average of about three units per acre,” the commission wrote. “Without additional explanation, the Commission finds that this assumption is not justified, either in terms of what has happened in the City in the past, or in terms of what is likely to occur within the UGB in the future.”

Pam Hardy, staff attorney for 1000 Friends of Oregon, said she hopes city councilors, some of whom are being sworn into office Wednesday, will consider options to encourage redevelopment in the downtown area. The group has said the city’s original expansion proposal was too large.

“I think there’s a possibility that the different councilors will take it in a different direction,” Hardy said Thursday.

An element in the original UGB proposal, called the central area plan, calls for mixed-use redevelopment of the area between U.S. Highway 97 and Third Street, Hardy said. “I think it would be a solution for housing in the near-term,” Hardy said. “It would take some of the immediate pressure for subdivisions off.”

Hardy added, “There’s a lot of research now saying millennials and baby boomers don’t want to live in the far-flung suburbs.”

Oberst wrote in an email that the city has not yet adopted the central area plan by ordinance, so it cannot be implemented.

High does not favor higher-density development in the city. “A lot of people moved to Central Oregon to not have density,” High said. “Obviously I hope the city continues to push for the UGB (expansion). ... Bigger is always going to be the way to go for land needs.”

A 20-year population projection adopted in 2004 is the basis of the UGB expansion proposal. “I think, on average, we’re still on course to come close to our projection in the 20-year planning period,” Oberst said. “We’re going like gangbusters right now. We’re issuing a lot of permits.”

The city is on course to issue 700-800 permits to build single-family homes this fiscal year. Oberst said a sustainable long-term rate would be 600-700 single-family home permits per year. “That’s kind of what the population projection was based on,” he said.

However, the city can meet housing and other building needs in other ways: by expanding the city footprint or requiring denser development within the current city limits. “That’s where we want (the) council to give us a little more direction on that,” King said. “As we’re retooling our infrastructure inside the UGB, are there things they want us to do to allow greater density and infill that maybe weren’t included in the previous proposal? That would definitely change the UGB expansion. We already know the remand order we received from the state will produce a much smaller expansion area.”

The process to expand city boundaries in Oregon takes too long, a decade or more, King said. “It should, in my opinion, take a year, maybe two,” King said.

Since state lawmakers could amend land use laws this year, it makes sense for the city to take a slow or incremental approach, King said.

High, with the Central Oregon Builders Association, also said the state process for cities to expand takes too long.

Oberst said the city has time to update the UGB expansion proposal, although development is picking up.

“I think the city’s OK for a while without any expansion,” Oberst said. “As we went into the recession, there were a lot of subdivisions in the process, and so they went ahead and completed their process and platted a lot of lots. And so we have a fairly large inventory of vacant residential lots in town.”

High said the city urgently needs to expand. At the current pace of construction, Bend could add another 3,000 new homes in 21⁄2 to four years. In that case, home prices could skyrocket as they did in 2005 and 2006, he said. High said city officials should lobby the state to amend land-use laws to allow cities to quickly expand their boundaries.

“The state bureaucratic process is taking too long to allow cities the opportunity to grow,” High said.