Editorial: Incremental good news about Bend’s UGB

Published May 31, 2014 at 12:01AM

This editorial is about the rarest of things when it comes to the subject of Bend’s urban growth boundary expansion.

It’s about some good news.

But this being about UGB expansion, there are bundles and bundles of bad news first.

The Portland metro area had so much trouble with the state’s UGB process that the Legislature stepped in this year. It solved the dispute by completely bypassing the state’s UGB process.

In other words, the state’s system was so bad, state lawmakers gave up on it.

So the best hope for Bend’s proposed UGB expansion could be for the Legislature to come to the rescue.

That doesn’t seem likely to happen soon.

Instead, Bend’s UGB boundary has not budged from where it was when the city started the expansion effort in 2004.

Bend spent millions. It submitted a plan to the state. The state said Bend wanted too much land, the city failed to provide all the data the state requires, Bend has to have more infill and the city needs to resubmit.

As you may have noticed, we are still on the bad news. And there is more.

One of the hardest things for the city is figuring out what the state wants. The state says it won’t dictate to Bend how much infill it needs to have, but then it won’t tell Bend staff if what it is proposing for more infill is enough before the city submits its entire application.

For instance, one of the things Bend can do is upzone. It could do something like increase the number of homes allowed per lot. In the residential standard zone, which covers most of Bend, the city allows two to seven lots per gross acre. It could increase it to allow three to eight.

Would that be enough to please the Land Conservation and Development Commission? There’s no way to know.

So Bend is spending more than $1 million right now, has easily spent quadruple that already and is headed to an uncertain outcome all over again.

What makes the uncertainty all the more uncertain is that as Bend puts together its UGB plan, there are at the bottom some building block assumptions. One is how much residential land Bend needs for the next 20 years. Another is how much land it needs for business for the next 20 years. Those things are difficult to figure for all sorts of reasons. It’s easy for opponents to a UGB expansion to contest them for those very same reasons.

And if those assumptions are found to be flawed, it means whatever plan Bend has come up with based on those assumptions is wrong. The lands it picked would be wrong. The proposed new boundaries it drew would be wrong. The assumptions that it made about needed roads and sewer and water would be wrong, wrong, wrong. Bend would have to go back all over again and plan again.

Now, finally, to the good news.

The Legislature has required the LCDC to come up with ways to simplify the UGB expansion process. So here is one: LCDC could allow cities like Bend to submit some of those basic building block assumptions and could give cities incremental approval for those pieces. Cities could then go ahead with other planning without fear of having subsequent work undermined.

It’s unlikely that any simplifying of the LCDC will get done in time to help Bend. So, it’s not a lot of good news. But when it comes to the state’s UGB process, that’s about as good as it gets.