Marilyn Worrix - Separating urban from rural

Oregonian’s strong link to the land started when pioneers arrived to find the fertile valleys, forests and rivers. Forty years ago that link led to the birth of Oregon’s unique land use planning system. This anniversary is a good time to reflect on how it came about, what it actually does and how it determines our future.

Oregon likes being first. We created the Bottle Bill, the Beach Bill and the first statewide land use planning program. The program arose out of Oregon innovation, leadership and the open-minded climate of the time.

The early ’70s saw profound national change. Marching through San Francisco, protesting the Vietnam war, I believed our generation could accomplish anything. This progressive and hopeful time created the perfect backdrop for new ideas, and in 1973 the Legislature passed Senate Bill 100, the foundation of our land use program.

The plan was a bold step forward. It took dedication, political savvy and people like Gov. Tom McCall, state Sen. (and farmer) Hector MacPherson and other dedicated — often colorful — personalities. The political climate was right, the leadership was there and something amazing happened.

So what did Senate Bill 100 do? It required cities and counties to do long-range land use planning, meet state goals and provide a 20-year supply of land for development. It established the Urban Growth Boundary concept: lines drawn around cities clearly delineating urban and rural uses. It established LCDC (Land Conservation and Development Commission) to oversee the program and develop goals addressing the full range of land uses.

Not surprisingly, there were immediate challenges. Developing comprehensive plans was more complicated than anticipated, and it was 1986 before all cities and counties had LCDC approval. The tension —sometimes a tug-of-war — between private property rights versus community needs, and local versus state control was a constant search for balance. By 1982, voters had three chances to weaken or repeal the program through initiatives. While it survived these attempts, legislative battles and constitutional challenges, tensions remained. The broad nature of the goals made enforcement difficult, and LCDC started creating rules for clarity.

This search for balance continued for 30 years. In the early ’90s, when I was a state representative, HB 3661 was passed. It added an element of fairness to the system by allowing some flexibility on rural homesites, especially for longtime property owners. The compromise addressed some continuing tensions.

More recent challenges include Measures 7, 37 and 49. Essentially, these laws require compensation or waivers for property owners who are prevented from using their land as permitted when they purchased it. Measure 7 passed but was defeated in court. Measure 37 passed, but citizens quickly recognized its confusion and unforeseen consequences. This resulted in the passage of Measure 49, limiting and clarifying Measure 37. The challenge of balancing conflicting philosophies continues.

So, has it worked? You can see the results by driving through the state. Instead of sprawl, you actually see where an urban area becomes rural. The numbers also say “Yes.” The Brookings Institute reports that from 1962 to 1997 the amount of land in U.S. cities grew three times faster than their population. During the same time, Oregon grew faster than the nation but urbanized land increased at only one-sixth of population gain. More than 25 million acres are zoned for farm and forest use. Of the land zoned this way in 1987, 99 percent still retained that zoning in 2009. It is clear that our land use system has made a huge difference.

What’s next? Our land use program has matured. We’ve learned a lot. While successful, the program has become extremely complex and costly for local communities. The results are impressive, but the process is rife with endless studies, huge time commitments and great expense. Forty years of experience have prepared us to simplify the system, requiring less time and money, less busy work and fewer legal challenges.

Simpler does not mean weaker. Streamlining allows communities to focus more on local needs and less on regulatory processes.

This streamlining reflects a new vision for LCDC. While there will always be regulations, we now can focus on how land use planning creates and maintains vibrant communities. We can more fully integrate land use with transportation, the economy, infrastructure and climate change. Tomorrow’s program will have even more regional collaborative planning. It will provide resources rather than checklists of requirements, will do more listening and less telling, and will continue to expand citizen input. We’ve been moving toward this for some time but will continue with more confidence and efficiency.

Oregon will need to accommodate 1.7 million more people by 2035. To accomplish this and maintain this special place, we need to be smart, bold and steadfast. A strong land use planning program is essential to Oregon’s future.

Land Use Legislation

Editor’s Note: For nearly two years, the writer has been part of a stakeholder group working under the direction of the governor’s office to simplify Oregon’s Urban Growth Boundary amendment process. The group’s proposed legislation, House Bills 2253 and 2254, have passed unanimously in the Oregon House and Senate. The bills now await the governor’s signature.

Guest writer Marilyn Dell Worrix worked for many years as a local real estate broker. Upon retirement, she continued her interest in land use planning. She has served nine years on the state Land Conservation and Development Commission, and now chairs the unpaid volunteer group. She divides her time between traveling with her husband, Matt, land use and working as a book artist and binder.

Web Design & Web Development by LVSYS