December 01, 2015 Urban Lawyer

Urbanization in Oregon: Goal 14 and the Urban Growth Boundary

by Edward J. Sullivan

Edward J. Sullivan, Owner, Garvey Schubert Barer, Portland, Oregon. B.A., St. John’s University (N.Y.), 1966; J.D. Willamette University, 1969; M.A. (History), Portland State University, 1973; Urban Studies Certificate, Portland State University, 1974; M.A. (Political Thought), University of Durham, 1998; Diploma in Law, Uni- versity College (Oxford), 1984; LL.M., University College (London), 1978. The author acknowledges the assistance of Erin Winkles (LL.B. University College, London, 2012) and James D. O’Donnell (Northwestern School of Law, Lewis and Clark Col- lege, J.D. expected, 2016) for their assistance in the preparation of this paper.

The urbanization process, with its attendant concerns over the cost and provision of infrastructure, resolving conflict among land uses, allocation of land uses and provision for housing and employment, is a principal reason for planning and land use regulation in the United States. For all the talk about the superiority of the free market, Americans have often resorted to planning and land use regulation as a check on the marketplace. This article examines the planning and land use regulatory experience in Oregon under Statewide Planning Goal 14, the state’s principal method of controlling urban growth,1 and its use of the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) as a means of controlling urbanization.

I.   Introduction and History of Urbanization in Oregon

A.  The Urbanization Process in General and Oregon in Particular

Public control of urbanization requires balancing the negative impacts of growth, including the possibility of urban sprawl2 against the requirement to provide sufficient and suitable lands to accommodate urban land needs. The negative effects of sprawl are well documented.3 To combat these undesirable consequences, various land use planning systems around  the country have emerged and evolved in the past 50 years to provide for managing growth.4  Oregon’s land use planning system  and its use  of the urban growth boundary stands as one of the most innovative and unique land use programs in the country.5

By the 1960s, Oregon had begun to experience some of the adverse effects of uncontrolled growth. That decade saw rapid and uncoordinated suburban growth, particularly in the fertile Willamette Valley, on the Pacific Coast, and in Central Oregon,6 and the state population grew by 18%, with 86% of that growth taking place in    the Willamette Valley, and 54% in the Portland metropolitan area.7 The possible loss of farmland due to a population increase in the Willamette Valley, the most productive agricultural area of the state, threatened the entire Oregon economy.8 In response to the problems associated with urban sprawl and uncontrolled growth during the 1960s and 1970s, there was a growing realization that additional planning and a land use regulatory framework was needed to mitigate these undesirable effects. In 1973, then-Governor Tom McCall made his famous speech to the Oregon legislature denouncing disorderly growth as a threat to the state.9 In that same year, the Oregon legislature provided a remedy by establishing a novel, centralized land use system in which a state agency set land use policy and standards to which local government comprehensive plans must adhere, while local governments retained the authority and responsibility for the methods by which to do so.10 Thus, a creative, innovative, and complex land use planning system emerged.

Premium Content For:
  • State and Local Government Law Section
Join - Now