By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
In a June meeting to discuss the potential for the growth of Keizer, consultants highlighted three other Oregon cities that have fought to expand the boundaries hemming in urban sprawl. The future they portend for a Keizer expansion isn’t exactly sunshine and roses.
Three other areas were called out in particular. Two achieved successful, limited expansion at high costs in terms of time and effort – North Bethany and Woodburn – and one which failed to launch – McMinnville.
The City of McMinnville launched its campaign to expand its Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) in 2003 and saw it fall apart almost 10 years later.
The city based its request on three years of study and research showing it would fall short of the land needed for its projected growth by 2023. As a result, it sought to expand its boundary to include an additional 1,200 acres, about 900 acres of which would have been developable.
After getting initial approval in 2008, court challenges over the inclusion of high-quality farm land in 2011 eventually led the city to abandon its bid in 2012. While future expansion is not out of the question, Keizer could likely run into the same issues because high-quality farm land would need to be rezoned if it were incorporated into the city’s UGB.
By the time the city of Woodburn received approval to expand its UGB in 2016, the city had spent 10 years and more than $1 million in time and capital reserves to achieve its goals – and even then the results were diminished. After two court cases appealing the city’s justifications for the expansion, the court file was reportedly more than 10,000 pages long.
Woodburn initially requested an expansion of 971 acres that included space for residential, industrial and commercial development. Court challenges from local farmers, residents and 1000 Friends of Oregon led to a substantial reduction – down to 619 acres – after entering into mediation. In addition, the city agreed to limit certain types of expansion for the next 20 years.
The challenges to the case again rested on inclusion of fertile farm land.
Comparatively, North Bethany, which north of Beaverton, had the easiest path to UGB expansion. But hidden costs delayed development for years.
The expansion faced court challenges over the inclusion of farm land, but overcame them and an additional 716 acres were brought into the UGB in 2002. However, the city and county faced enormous challenges in building out the infrastructure needed to support additional development. By the time it was complete, it’s estimated that the county had invested more than $100,000 per potential home in building roads and installing water and sewer systems.
Successfully funding the infrastructure alone meant tapping into county reserve funds, significantly raising the system development charges on new development in the expanded area and adding an additional property tax to the residences as they were built.
In 2016, 14 years after the approval of its UGB expansion, only 573 of a projected 5,000 new homes had been built. The least expensive was more than $400,000.
Even if Keizer were able to successfully separate itself from the UGB it shares with Salem, many of the same struggles likely lie ahead, said Glen Bolen, a senior planner with OTAK, a consulting firm helping Keizer plot the path forward.
“Costs will be higher because everything will need to be built from scratch. Fees would have to increase dramatically. Demand for property may not be sufficient to support infrastructure costs, and homes may not be affordable to current (Keizer) residents,” Bolen said.