By editorial board • 

When it comes to land use, where's the common ground?

Here we go again. Or as Yogi Berra once said in his famously fractured English, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Or is it?

McMinnville established its first and only urban growth boundary in 1981 when the city’s population was 14,000. That boundary has only undergone one meaningful expansion since, and the aim was to facilitate development of the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, not expand the inventory of buildable residential, commercial and industrial land.

Under state land use dictates, McMinnville must maintain 20 years worth of buildable land within its UGB. The city began work in 1995 on expansion designed to carry through from 2001 to 2021. Six years stretched to 10 and 10 to 15, to the point we’re now looking toward 2041, when the population is estimated to be nearly 50,000.

The city was trying to bring in another 1,188 acres, with 890 designated for single- and multiple-family housing. But that plan was thwarted by a combination of expansion opponents and the state’s labyrinthian regulatory and judicial systems.

Over the yeas, McMinnville UGB plans have triggered seemingly endless legal nitpicking remands and referrals.

It brings to mind Sisyphus, a figure in Greek mythology. Immortalized by Albert Camus, he was condemned for eternity to roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down again every time he reached the top. For a more modern metaphor, think Charlie Brown of Peanuts comic strip fame, with Lucy snatching the football away each time he tries a placekick

We have to forgive the city for concluding, in 2012, that there was no way to get there from here.

However, state land use dictates require McMinnville to maintain five years worth of buildable land within its corporate limits. So no matter how discouraging the past, the city has little choice but to launch another UGB expansion bid and hope to avoid more years of costly and time-consuming litigation.

The city wants to avoid years of related turmoil. They should try to pull together myriad interests seeking an appropriate UGB expansion without opponents using the state agency and court system to stretch that effort far into the future.

Historic opponents of city UGB expansion are urging a collaborative effort to find common ground. One challenge is that regional and statewide interests could wade into the process without any commitment to compromise, knowing they have the ability to use the existing land use system until the city raises a white flag.

When Oregon enacted its groundbreaking land use system in 1973, the mantra was local control. The pledge was that each city and county in the state would be free to map out its own destiny. The state would only oversee the process, not the particulars.

In fact, however, the state oversight has evolved into a monolithic system worthy of Franz Kafka, who inspired the term Kafkaesque. We think the entire system needs a carefully considered overhaul.

Meanwhile, the jury is out on expectations for McMinnville’s pending UGB process. We join those hoping against a repeat of the history that helped give McMinnville its current shortage of buildable lands.




It's suddenly important to expand the UGB since the city is in the midst of state-mandated planning based on projected population figures that are significantly higher than actual numbers. It's also become the latest "hot button" for the newspaper to generate reader involvement. I'm a perfect example of that.

Be that as it may, why is the only discussion about more land? Water, sewer, electricity and transportation capacity are equal components of the forecasting process goals and yet the focus is always on land. Currently, the city council is considering a large, high density development on the north side of Baker Creek Road between Hill Road to the west and Shadden to the east. If it is approved, within about a year, more than 900 housing units will have been approved immediately adjacent to Baker Creek Road (120 Evans Street Apartments; 278 housing units at Baker Creek South; 108 housing units for Oak Ridge; and 400 units for Baker Creek North). And yet, in the Executive Summary, the 2010 TSP specifically states that additional density is problematic for the west side because access is limited to only Baker Creek and Second Street - the Michelbook Golf Course prevents additional east/west access roads. In other words, once the 906 units go in, there is no fix to the traffic congestion.

On the other hand, we have land around Three Mile, but limited water and sewer capacity. That can be fixed.
More land, without infrastructure, doesn't solve anything. We need to consider our utility and transportation capacities rather than simply focusing on increasing the UGB. A reasonable, although probably not popular, thought would be to look at our current UGB land and see what gains we could have if we improved our infrastructure. Think it'd be more productive than a courtroom battle? At least we'd have something tangible after the expenditures.

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