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Metro's urban growth boundary plan is a wise approach

Some Washington County officials object to recommendation of no further expansion at this time

A detailed set of recommendations recently issued by Martha Bennett, chief operating officer of Metro, the regional government, calls for no further expansion of the urban growth boundary for the Portland metropolitan area at this time.

Not surprisingly, the report has sparked controversy, among some Washington County officials in particular.

Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey, as well as Washington County Commission Chairman Andy Duyck, disagreed with Metro's recommendation to wait several more years before expanding the UGB. And both men disagreed with some of the premises behind the report from Bennett.

Yet Bennett is as experienced and savvy as they come, and we tend to trust her conclusions. The urban growth boundary serves as a valuable method to preserve and protect farms, fields and wooded areas from being gobbled up by creeping urban and suburban sprawl, and the boundaries have helped nurture the grand quality of life our region has enjoyed for so long.

At the Hillsboro Chamber Business Forum on Sept. 8, Metro President (and former Hillsboro mayor) Tom Hughes supported Bennett's call to hold off on expanding the UGB — lines on the map that serve to balance the need for more housing and commercial/industrial development against protection of land for farms, forests and green space.

Although Willey and Duyck are correct to cite the differences between Washington County on one hand and Clackamas and Multnomah counties on the other, the reality is that Metro is responsible for overseeing growth and planning across the entire metropolitan region. Metro is charged with managing the big picture and making decisions that boost the entire area, not solely the relatively narrow interests of any one city or any one county.

Further, although the vote is advisory only and not binding on Metro council members — who will make the final decision on this topic in November — a strong majority of the Metro Policy Advisory Committee (representatives of local government jurisdictions and various service districts, chaired by Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax) voted 11 to 4 in early September to endorse the recommendation that would defer any further expansion of the UGB for at least three more years.

Tellingly, three of the four members voting "No" on the recommendation hailed from Washington County. In addition to Willey and Duyck, former Sherwood Mayor Keith Mays voted to oppose Bennett's recommendations. But on the other side of the issue and supporting Bennett's analysis that the boundaries do not need to be pushed outward at this time, were Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba, among many other regional political leaders.

Every six years, the Metro Council oversees a thorough inventory of land in the metropolitan area. Staffers research and report on forecasts for population and employment growth over many years. Of course, forecasting is by nature inexact, but it provides a compelling overall picture of conditions in the region. When those factors indicate it is necessary, the UGB can be adjusted accordingly. But there should be no expectation that every time a new report or forecast is made, the boundaries are going to be pushed ever outward.

Indeed, Washington County is already experiencing explosive growth with, for example, the upcoming construction in South Cooper Mountain in Beaverton and also in South Hillsboro. Further, hundreds of acres in North Hillsboro are being prepared for substantial industrial expansion. In our view, that tends to diminish any urgency in making even more room available for development in the near future.

While we concur with Hughes' statement that some minor adjustments may be called for, we believe that, on the whole, Bennett's well-researched observations represent the best course for the overall region. Waiting a few more years — to 2018 — to again consider whether the UGB should be redrawn seems a wise and prudent course to follow.