Housing pilot projects OK’d despite farmland concerns

A bill to speed up urban growth boundary expansions on 50-acre parcels in two cities has passed the Oregon Legislature despite opposition from farm and conservation groups.

Capital Press

SALEM — A bill to speed up urban growth boundary expansions on 50-acre parcels in two cities has passed the Oregon Legislature despite opposition from farm and conservation groups.

House Bill 4079 will create two pilot projects — one in a city with fewer than 25,000 residents and one with more — that would be exempt from certain land use rules, with the goal of creating more affordable housing.

Opponents of the bill, including the Oregon Farm Bureau and 1,000 Friends of Oregon, argued that it would short-circuit the UGB expansion process and allow housing developments to sprawl onto farmland.

Sen. Lauri Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, said the bill wasn’t well thought-out and was unclear on who would pay for connecting “infrastructure” to housing built at the margins of larger cities.

“More and more Oregonians want to live at the center of their communities, not at the edge of the UGB,” she said.

Several counties — including Clackamas, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Washington and portions of Jefferson — aren’t eligible for the pilot projects.

Bill sponsor Rep. Duane Stark, R-Grants Pass, said HB 4079 was not designed to be a “ruse to burst open the UGB,” as claimed by opponents.

The bill contains several “siderails” aimed at preventing unintended consequences like shoving low-income residents to the outskirts of cities where they’d have inadequate access to services and transportation, he said.

Under the bill, Oregon’s Land Conservation and Development Commission is required to select pilot projects that are near public facilities and services and that minimize adverse impacts to agriculture, Stark said.

“There’s all sorts of stuff out there that’s not farm or forest lands,” he said.

Rep. Knute Buhler, R-Bend, said Oregon faces an affordable housing shortage due to a “mismatch between supply and demand” and a cumbersome UGB expansion process.

By allowing the 50-acre pilot projects, lawmakers will take a “small bite at the apple” toward correcting this problem, he said. “It allows us to experiment on a small scale before making big changes.”

The bill passed the House 31-25 on March 1 and the Senate 16-11 on March 11 and now awaits the signature of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.

Critics of HB 4079 say that Oregon’s land use laws already require a 20-year supply of buildable land available for housing within a city’s UGB.

If a city doesn’t have enough affordable housing, it can “upzone” certain areas from single-family units to multi-family units, thereby increasing supplies within the UGB, critics argue.

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