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Oregon land use law turns 40

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Articles - September 2013
Monday, August 19, 2013


0913 LandFutures 01From the outdoor patio at Cooper Mountain Vineyards on the outskirts of Beaverton, one can look west at grapevines and, in the distance beyond, miles of fertile Willamette Valley farmland. But a few feet in the other direction is the edge of a housing subdivision. And with this property officially designated as future urban land within the growth boundary of Beaverton, the winery will eventually have to give up its namesake property and plant vineyards elsewhere.

“We just have to accept the path of progress,” says Cooper Mountain owner Robert Gross, who not only doubles as a physician but also served on Washington County’s planning commission in the early 1980s. “Having urban or rural reserves makes sense. If you’re an owner in this group, particularly if you’re in urban reserves, you’re kind of locked in to somebody else’s plans. And yet I think there are good reasons for that, so the land doesn’t get subdivided in a way that would not meet the overall goals of land-use planning.” Cooper Mountain already owns two parcels far outside Portland’s urban-growth boundary and is looking for more.

The winery’s move comes amid this year’s 40th anniversary of Senate Bill 100, the 1973 legislation spearheaded by legendary governor Tom McCall that established Oregon’s first statewide land-use laws. Along the way, the system has continued to evolve, be it through ballot measures, the legislature or the courts.

Today supporters say Oregon’s unique state-controlled land-use system (most other states have local control) has prevented sprawl while preserving farmland, which in turn has allowed both rural industries, such as wineries, and urban businesses, from high tech to athletic apparel to restaurants, to thrive and enjoy international renown.

Yet critics abound too. Growth boundaries have been routinely criticized over the years by property-rights advocates, be it residents of Damascus looking to unincorporate their town rather than acquiesce to urban-growth boundary annexation, or a range of industry leaders who believe the recovery has been stymied by an overprescriptive and top-heavy land-use system with few ties between planning and economic development. In the middle are businesses, which have their own multifaceted perspectives.

There isn’t universal agreement from Oregon entrepreneurs and corporations, but there is a desire for balance and middle-ground solutions that allow as many as possible to thrive and prosper — without costly, polarized or protracted political battles. And as we map out the next generation of growth-boundary policy, the future of Oregon’s business and economic development is at stake. With the population rising, there is more pressure than ever on urban lands to be expanded for development. After years of recession, business leaders are eager to create jobs and increase profits. How best to manage conservation and commerce is a more delicate equation than ever.


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