Prepared by Robert Liberty, Director, 1000 Friends of Oregon
September 1997
Oregon’s statewide planning program was adopted by the Oregon Legislature in 1973, under the leadership of Republican Governor Tom McCall. The state land use planning program: mandates urban growth boundaries around every city in Oregon; requires cities and counties to rezone urban land for affordable types of housing (which had the effect of increasing permitted residential densities); requires changes to the transportation network and urban design to reduce dependence on automobiles; establishes state zoning for all farm, range and forest lands in order to protect the land base for farming, ranching and timber production; requires the identification and protection of natural resources; and changes the way land use decisions are made.

Oregon’s state land use planning laws and policies have survived many attacks, because they command broad support. Three initiatives to repeal the state’s planning laws were rejected by Oregon voters by margins of 10 to 20%. Groups opposing repeal in 1982 included the AFL-CIO, the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland and various chambers of commerce. The very conservative leadership of the 1995 and 1997 Oregon Legislatures failed to pass amendments to weaken the land use laws, because of support for those laws by the public, the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation, the Oregon Forest Industry Council and business leaders.

Upon the foundation of Oregon’s statewide planning program, the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan region is in the process of adopting a 40-year regional framework plan that may do even more to address the problematic patterns of metropolitan sprawl and decay in the U.S. This process is being carried out by a directly-elected, home rule, regional council, Metro. Under state law and its home rule charter, Metro is required to adopt a long-range regional framework plan. The 24 cities and parts of three counties within Metro’s boundary, must amend their local land use plans and regulations to conform to the Regional Framework Plan.

Here is a summary of some of the accomplishments of the Oregon and Metro planning efforts to date and some information about additional prospective efforts under consideration. This summary focuses on the planning efforts’ achievements in the Portland metropolitan region.

A. Urban Growth Boundaries
Every incorporated city in Oregon has an urban growth boundary (UGB), from metropolitan Portland (population 1.3 million in the Oregon part of the region) to Greenhorn, population 3. The Portland metropolitan UGB encompasses 24 cities and parts of three counties and 1.3 million people. It is 232,000 acres in size and has been in place for 17 years.

B. Land Savings & Densities Within the Portland Metro UGB
In 1960 the density of metropolitan Portland was 3,412 people per square mile and the density of metropolitan Atlanta was 3,122 people per square mile. In 1990 the density of the Oregon part of the Portland metro area rose to 3,734 people/square mile while Atlanta’s had dropped to 1,898 per square. In 1994, the Oregon portion of the Portland metropolitan area reached a density of 3,885 people per square mile.

If the Atlanta metropolitan region had been able to grow during the 1980s, as efficiently as the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area has been able to grow in the early 1990s, Georgia would have saved 93,000 acres of rural land – farm land, pine forests and rural homesites.

C. Protection of Farm and Forest Lands Outside Urban Growth Boundaries
Oregon has adopted statewide zoning for 16.4 million acres of farmland and 8.7 million acres of private forest land (about 40,000 square miles.) By contrast, all of the land set aside for urbanization and rural residential development and commerce in Oregon totals 1.6 million acres.

Minimum lot sizes in farm and forest zones range from 80 to 240 acres. (Houses are subject to additional restrictions beyond lot size.)

The two large counties which contain the western, eastern and southern parts of the Portland regional urban growth boundary, rank second and fifth out of 36 counties in agricultural production.

D. Urban Reinvestment and Revitalization in the Portland Metropolitan Region
In the last year, 29% of all residential development inside the Portland metro UGB has come from infill and redevelopment, as contrasted with about 4% in the Cleveland metropolitan area.

In the last five years, the most rapid appreciation of home prices in the region has occurred in poor inner city neighborhoods. For example, in March 1992, the average sale price of a home in poor and working class North Portland was $44,500. In March 1997 the average sale price was $102,000; a 150%. By contrast, in the exclusive Lake Oswego/West Linn area the sales prices increase for that period was 31% (from $169,900 to 221,900.) The biggest problem in many poor neighborhoods now is not urban decay but gentrification.

The share of regional employment in the central city area of the metropolitan Portland region has held steady at 20% of the regional total (compared to 10 to 15% for many metropolitan areas of similar size), even as the entire region has experienced rapid growth. The downtown is lively, vital and busy on weekends and weekday evenings.

E. Reducing Barriers to Housing Affordability
The average minimum lot size for vacant residential land in 1978 was 12,800 square feet. Because of the implementation of Oregon’s Goal 10, “Housing”, it was reduced to an average of 8,280 square feet by 1982, reducing the cost of the land for a home by $7,000 to $10,000 in 1982 dollars.

Due to Goal 10, between 1977 and 1982 the amount of land zoned for residential use increased by only 10% but land available for multi-family residential development almost quadrupled, from 7.6% to 27% of net buildable acreage.

Overall, the maximum number of buildable units in the metropolitan area increased from 129,000 to over 301,000.

Oregon state law requires local governments to allow manufactured housing in all residential zones. Cities and counties must all zone adequate amounts of land for multi-family housing. City charters or zoning regulations cannot be used to block government subsidized housing.

Today these gains are eroded as accelerating growth during a period of modest wage increases has made housing less and less affordable in this region (like other high growth parts of the U.S.) However, the average sale price of a home in the Portland metropolitan region in 1996 was only $139,400, about the same as Reno ($139,000) slightly more than Denver ($132,300) and less than San Diego ($173,600), Seattle ($163,800) and the San Francisco Bay Area ($269,900).

Additional steps are now under consideration to assure affordable housing. For example, in 1996, the Metro regional government adopted a regulation that requires cities and counties to allow accessory housing units in any residential zone.

F. Increasing Transportation Choices
In 1997, the Portland metropolitan area decided not to build a beltway around its most rapidly growing south-western quadrant. Over the next 40 years, the region plans to build only a few short highway segments totaling less than 40 miles.

Between 1990 and 1995, transit usage (measured in trips/person/year) increased 4.4% in the Portland region. During the same period, transit usage in the 20 cities closest to Portland in size decreased by an average of 9.1%.

In 1998, the second light rail line, 18 miles long, reaching the western suburbs, will open. There are already 6000 new houses and apartments that are permitted or under construction in transit-oriented developments next to the line. Projections are that as many as one-third of the people living in these new suburban communities will get to work by walking, riding their bikes, or taking public transit.

G. Conserving Urban Greenspaces
In the Portland metro area, the voters approved a $136 million bond measure to buy an additional 6,000 acres of greenspaces in and around the regional UGB. Prohibitions on development on steep slopes or in flood plains, now being considered, will save significant amounts of additional greenspaces.

H. Metropolitan Regional Governance
In 1979, citizens in the Portland metropolitan region voted to replace their Council of Governments with a directly elected regional council and executive to handle a moderate portfolio of regional responsibilities including solid waste disposal, to regional visitor facilities and transportation planning.

In 1995, the voters approved a home rule charter for the regional government, now called Metro, emphasizing that its primary function was long-range land use and transportation planning. The charter reaffirmed Metro’s statutory authority to require local government’s local land use and transportation plans to conform to a regional framework plan.

Metro’s planning program is the subject of extensive public participation; over 17,000 people have returned surveys, with their own postage, on the regional planning effort. Voters get to express their preferences on the subject by who they elect to the Metro Council.

For Additional Information:

The following documents are available from 1000 Friends of Oregon. Prices include postage.

Questions & Answers About Oregon’s Land Use Planning Program 35 pages (1997) $5.00

Evaluation of the Oregon planning program’s performance in Landmark 30 pages (February 1997) (photocopy only) $4.00

Oregon’s Comprehensive Growth Management Program: An Implementation Review and Lessons for Other States Environmental Law Reporter News & Analysis 24 pages and 337 footnotes (June 1992) $3.00.