Bend’s Urban Growth Boundary – What does it mean?

Oregon’s comprehensive land use policy is based, in large part, on the overall premise of protecting resource lands, such as agricultural and forest lands, from conversion to non-resource uses, such as residential or commercial uses.  One factor in this policy is the promotion of orderly and efficient urban development within formally designated urban areas, or urban growth boundaries (“UGB”).  These UGBs are intended to supply adequate land for urban development over a 20 year time period.

In 2009, the City sought to expand its current boundary to meet demonstrated residential and employment land needs. That effort resulted in a partial “remand”, or “re-do” of the City’s decision from the state Land Conservation and Development Commission (“LCDC”).  In particular, LCDC directed the City to re-evaluate how it considered which directions to grow and whether certain uses could in fact be accommodated within the existing UGB, among other considerations.

State-mandated policies directing land priorities and infill development are major factors underlying the City’s need to re-do its expanded boundary.   For example, Juniper Ridge was identified for inclusion into the UGB, in part, based on an identified need for a four year university.  However, the State specifically rejected this inclusion on the basis that the City had not adequately explained why a university could not be accommodated within the existing UGB.  And indeed, with OSU-Cascades’ selection of a four year university site(s) within the UGB, the merits of additional land outside the existing UGB for university use have proven to be inaccurate.  Similarly, the City selected for expansion land to the east of town in a lower land priority category in part based on certain “suitability” factors.  The State rejected many of those factors and has directed the City to more closely follow strict state mandated priority categories in its boundary analysis.

The State’s remand order, while it places certain prescriptive limitations, does not mean that Bend residents do not have a say in the expansion process or outcome.  In fact, this week kicked off the City’s public involvement process that will accelerate the City’s UGB expansion process.  While, legally, the City has until June, 2017, to adopt a new expanded boundary, the City Council decided to complete its UGB adoption by April of 2016 to help alleviate land need pressures and resulting escalation of prices being felt currently in the City.  No small feat.  Indeed, the City has already been at this for a decade, having started the UGB process initially in 2004.

The City has some fair amount of discretion in how it weighs certain factors.  For example, community desires surrounding traffic facilities, transit, natural resource amenities, service centers, affordable housing, and sustainability can all factor into how the City will weigh different boundary scenarios.  Importantly, however, these desires have to pertain to specific housing and employment needs, the efficient accommodation of identified land needs, the orderly provision of public facilities and services, a comparison of environmental, energy, economic and social consequences, and compatibility with nearby agricultural and forest activities.  The City is seeking broad public feedback with an interactive survey tool on its website. In addition, the City has convened citizen technical advisory committees  to advise on certain elements of the remand order and the City’s process. This outreach will be important for the City in establishing a strong foundation, and factual record, on which to base its ultimate choices within the overarching state-mandated urban expansion policies.