Editorial: Pressure mounts to expand Bend’s growth boundary

Published May 26, 2013 at 05:00AM

Good news about the Central Oregon economy points to the increasing urgency to expand Bend’s urban growth boundary.

Figures released last week show Bend’s population growth is picking up, adding 2,470 residents from 2010-2012, a rate of 3.2 percent. That follows the much slower addition of 1,183 residents between 2008 and 2010. Back in the boom years, the city added more than 20,000 residents between 2000 and 2007.

The population news followed a report in late April from Bulletin reporter Elon Glucklich that the city’s supply of vacant industrial space had dropped sharply, reaching the lowest level since mid-2007.

The two reports show Bend climbing out of the long economic downturn, but they raise troubling questions about the city’s decision to delay seeking a UGB expansion until 2017. The state agreed to the delay, which the city blamed on staff shortages as well as sewer and water infrastructure issues.

The worry is that a shortage of available land could cause prices to rise, creating an artificial boom and hampering healthy development.

Under Oregon’s land use law, development is not permitted outside the UGB, and cities must prove the need for expansion of the boundary. The state rejected Bend’s proposal to add 8,500 acres in 2010, saying the city didn’t prove the need or focus sufficiently on redevelopment and infill within its existing boundary.

Officials have argued the delay won’t cause problems because many subdivisions were stalled by the recession, leaving plenty of buildable land. Other go-slow advocates say infill is the better approach because suburban living is losing its appeal. We have our doubts about how many people move to Bend because they are seeking high-density living.

But most important is to keep focused on the snail’s pace at which the state land use process moves. Waiting until 2017 to apply for a UGB expansion is just too long, and the risks are great. The city needs to pick up the pace.