By editorial board • 

City steering safest course through state land use maze

McMinnville’s first and only urban growth boundary was adopted in 1981, when the city’s population stood at only 14,000.

That boundary was designed to guide local growth through 2001. But it will still be with us in 2021, when the city’s population figures to exceed 35,000 — and perhaps longer, if so much as one aggrieved group or individual opts to appeal.

That’s 40 years and counting, 17 of them spent in a seemingly endless spin cycle of developing, submitting, defending, revising and resubmitting various versions before the city finally tossed in the towel in 2012.

Instead of starting over again, the city decided to dust off a 2003-23 plan rejected on a single ground and have another go with that one. So much for long-range planning.

This time, the city negotiated away all the potential criticism in advance with perennial appellants Friends of Yamhill County and 1000 Friends of Oregon, securing their promise not to tie the latest effort in further litigation. That was a wise move, as the city might otherwise have faced another 17 years of wasted toil and tears.

But as we have said repeatedly over the years, we don’t think it should evolve that way. We don’t think Oregon’s land use program should be so byzantine, inflexible, litigious and opposition-tilted as to require abject capitulation in advance.

When the system was enacted in 1973, its guiding mantra was local control.

As long as local jurisdictions followed broad state guidelines, we were assured, they would be free to shape their futures as they and their constituents saw fit.

Lakeview could go one way, Lake Oswego quite another. Amity could be Amity and Albany could be Albany.

But in large measure, what we actually got was a one-size-fits-all template forged in the halls of power Salem. It was imposed from above by state legislative, executive and judicial forces, who allowed 1000 Friends to keep one thumb on the scale from the outset.

Do we appreciate the no-appeal pledge from the two activist groups? Yes, we do. Half a loaf is always better than none.

And while it would only take one appeal to put the city’s latest iteration back on the judicial treadmill, the Friends agreements greatly reduces the potential.

Would we would like to see more flexibility and local control infused into the state’s land use planning system? Yes, we would. But we have to be pragmatic.

We don’t see relaxation of regulations becoming a majority view in Oregon any time soon. It might well be in Yamhill County, but not in the populous urban corridor running down the spine of the Willamette Valley.

The plan winning activist approval would add 862 acres, 662 of which are considered buildable. That’s enough to accommodate another 1,500 homes over future years.

Whether we like it or not, we will need those homes. Otherwise, we risk having local home sales and apartment rent figures soar ever more skyward, pricing out all but the most affluent among us.

Growth and change are inevitable. The goal of planning should not be to thwart them, but rather accommodate them in the most desirable fashion possible, based on citizen preferences.

McMinnville is in desperate need of an expanded UGB, and this looks to be out best shot by far. Here’s hoping it can survive public hearing scrutiny without triggering further judicial challenge.

Comments

McMinnville Planning Department

Since this is now part of the public record on this project, we feel compelled to correct the insinuations in this editorial regarding any negotiations with 1000 Friends or Friends of Yamhill County on our UGB proposal to City Council.

The City did NOT negotiate, meet with, confer with, or otherwise engage with 1000 Friends or Friends of Yamhill County when putting together our UGB recommendation. In fact, when it was once suggested by a citizen at a Planning Commission meeting that the City should meet with 1000 Friends and Friends of Yamhill County to negotiate a solution to McMinnville's UGB problem, the Planning Director stated unequivocally that she was not supportive of negotiating behind the scenes with stakeholder groups as it was contrary to Goal #1 of the Oregon Land Use system which is citizen involvement, public process and transparency.

When developing our recommendation for City Council to consider, city staff read the 1700 pages of legal record for the project, and followed the direction of the Court of Appeals decision and the statutes governing UGB expansions. City staff did not speak with or engage with any property owners or stakeholder groups that could influence the final recommendation. We were in fact very deliberate and intentional about not doing so. We focused on trying to deliver the best proposal we could to City Council that met the needs of the residents and businesses of McMinnville, both now and in the future, that also met the state statutes and covenants of the Court of Appeals decision for the project, respected the legal record generated over 15 years, and implemented the vision that the community first developed for this Plan in 2003.

Staff engaged in monthly public work sessions with City Council to reinforce the transparency and decision-making that was occurring as the proposal was being developed.

In the end, city staff had no idea how 1000 Friends and Friends of Yamhill County would react to the final proposal.