Editorial: Slow approach on UGB threatens economic recovery

The city of Bend’s decision to go slow on expanding its Urban Growth Boundary has one sure consequence: slower economic recovery and property values distorted by artificial limits on supply.

That’s not what we need.

The city says it can’t get a new UGB expansion plan ready till 2018 because it lacks the staff, despite plans to hire 15 new employees in the next two years. Clearly the city doesn’t consider the UGB to be a top priority.

The city also claims it needs to finish its sewer- and water-system planning before it can address the UGB. Seems to us the two need to go hand in hand. How can you design infrastructure if you don’t know where the growth will be?

And the city argues there’s plenty of land already in the existing UGB for residential development for years to come. Although there is some developable land, that proposition depends partly on the notion that in-fill development is what consumers want and will buy. Even the city, though, acknowledges that industrial land is in severely short supply.

In 2010, the state rejected the city’s last UGB expansion plan, which would have added 8,500 acres. Initially, the deadline for a new plan was this May, but the city sought and received a delay. Three city councilors and two planning commissioners are meeting this summer to devise a work plan, timetable and budget for work on the UGB expansion. They’ll bring a recommendation to the City Council.

Meanwhile, landowners and developers are urging a speedy process, describing the expansion as the most critical issue before the city.

Andy High, of the Central Oregon Builders Association, said affordability, which has been a council priority, requires supply, which requires UGB expansion. Liz Dickson, a lawyer who testified at a recent city meeting, said investors are turning away from Bend because of the shortage of commercial and industrial land in Bend.

No one disputes the critical problems the city faces in its sewer and water infrastructure. What’s perplexing is the administration’s insistence that the UGB doesn’t have the same urgency.