(September 12, 2015) – Traditional "Large Lot Zoning" is "Greener" than "Smart Growth" within Urban Growth Boundaries . . . Copyright 2009 – 2015 . . . Tom Lane . . . Photographing California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington.
Updating in progress, Dec. 23, 2010, with mistakes.
Above: The High Valley neighborhood a few miles east of Renton, Washington (Seattle metro) features wide streets with properties of several acres. However, many public officials take the opposite approach of High Valley. For example, Richard Whitman, Director of the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission (DLCD), would like smart growth with infilling, with narrow streets such as these mixed use condos in the Old Mill District in Bend. However, Bend City officials and residents do not want high density developments like this all over town. Many want large homes and large lots, such as at Northwest Crossing (below), and the City of Bend’s UGB proposal allocates a portion of the 8,500 additional acres for this purpose.
Proponents of “smart growth” wish to shorten commute distances with condos and attached townhomes, as shown elsewhere on this blog. Many communities wish to preserve their large lots in traditional heavily forested neighborhoods. However, this is difficult, given local and statewide growth management plans for small lots sizes, narrow streets, and upzoning.
What follows is mostly an exploration of the aesthetic elements of traditional versus smart growth neighborhoods. I am not an expert in the “back door” political decisions that involve grants and possible bribes from statewide organizations to local City Councils, from pro-smart growth agencies such as:
1. DLCD (Department of Land Conservation and Development), Oregon, director Richard M. Whitman and his commissioners, including John VanLandinghtam and Bruce McPherson
2. TGM (Transportation and Growth Management), Oregon
3. ODOT (Oregon Department of Transportation)
4. METRO (adjudicates the Portland metro area Urban Growth boundary)
5. PSRC (Puget Sound Regional Council, adjudicates the Seattle metro area Urban Growth Boundary, and local smart growth initiatives such as Vision 2040)
6. King County Council (adjudicates smart growth projects in King County, Washington (Seattle area) such as the master planned, corporate built and operated neighborhoods “Issaquah Highlands” and “Talus” in Issaquah, Wa.
And, many others nationwide.
While I am no spokesperson for the City of Bend planning department, it’s clear from newspaper articles and from visiting Bend (such as the beautiful neighborhood NW Crossing, my photos at this link), that they don’t want high density smart growth condos over the entire City, including the 8,500 acres where they want to expand in their Urban Growth Boundary (UGB). Here’s one view of a spacious wide street through NW Crossing at sunset. Including the street, sidewalks, and grass strips, perhaps the entire width is nearly 90 feet?
The outcome of Bend’s possible lawsuit against the state over expanding their UGB could set a precedence for future urban growth boundary decisions in Oregon, and other states with statewide mandates, especially over issues such as upzoning for ugly, towering condos next to Victorian homes (my photos at this link).
In economics, given constant demand, decreasing the supply of something increases its cost. The same is true for housing and land, as Bill Robie of the Central Oregon Association of Realtors, points out below (following several photos). With an urban growth boundary, there is less land for urban development, and its value increases., as also explained in Superstar City concept, from Dr. Joe Gyourko of the Wharton School of Real Estate at the Univ. of Pennsylvania, as I summarize here.
Richard Whitman and the DLCD want Bend to increase “upzoning” within existing urban growth boundaries, with ugly, towering high rise condos (my photos at this link) along narrow streets.
100 years ago, streets were narrow and filled with Victorian bungalow homes on small lots on the grid system, as pictured in Eugene below. Today, due to concerns about urban sprwal, carbon credits, and global warming, smart growth agencies such as the PSRC in Seattle, the DLCD in Oregon, and numerous special interest organizations want narrow streets on ridiculously small lots.
However, as the flight to the suburbs began after WWII, the booming middle class built larger homes on larger lots, such as tract housing. Ultimately, this contributed to sprawl, with metro regions extending over hundreds of square miles, and large freeway systems destroying neighborhood character.
Yet today, most people never give a second thought to congestion. In fact, only one group does: those of us who notice it, because we’re landscape architects, artists, foresters, writers, cyclists, planners, and so on.
However, we are sharply divided amongst ourselves, as some of us wish to establish regional planning authorities to stop sprawl. Others, myself included, recognize that human population growth is inevitable, so we just move to small college towns with natural amenities such as skiing, hiking, and cycling.
This is a free country, and I don’t care if you want to live in a place of 4 million people like Vegas and drive a Hummer to work. I’d never try to pass a law against sprwal in your city, or ban your Hummer. Likewise, I wouldn’t want someone banning my fuel inefficient 4WD, so I can drive out of town to go mountain biking. Both the City dweller and the rural resident drive tremendous distances for different reasons. Maybe you enjoy the amenities of a big city so much that you don’t care about bad air quality and 2 hour commutes. It’s your personal choice. It’s a free country. That’s what America is all about.
Compare these three photos: 1) a run down, classic old Eugene neighborhood of bungalows build decades ago (just north of the University of Oregon) 2) a new smart growth neighborhood in Ashland, Oregon with similar geometry of bungalows 3) a new smart growth neighborhood in Talent, Oregon (near Ashland). Note the similarities? See what Richard Whitman and his commissioners are trying to do in Bend?
The State of Oregon web site reveals two internal PDF documents with photos of narrow streets, including one signed by former Governor Kitzhaber (just elected again), stating that LCDC wants narrow streets in Oregon cities, even less than 30′ (here’s a link to the second PDF doc.).
However, narrow streets are dangerous for pedestrians, bicyclists, and skateboarders, especially with heavy traffic such as pictured on the street above in Eugene, Oregon. Smart growth is bad for cycling, since as density increases with more smart growth condos, traffic gets even worse, and cyclists complain or don’t even ride. Downtown Eugene should be a pleasant place, yet narrow streets, infilling, and high population density cause high traffic.
In contrast, older portions of Ashland, Oregon (before smart growth became popular) offer wide streets safe for pedestrians, skateboarders, and cyclists, such as the second photo below. The third photo near Seattle shows a wide street with large setbacks, perfect for basketball hoops either on the street or in the driveway as shown:
Narrow streets such as the photos at Talus below, are not safe, along with their curb extensions, roundabouts, bike lanes, dividers, and so on. Someday, someone will sue a smart growth developer for tripping in the dark over a curb extension, because of a low light ordinance.
I like wide streets, since they give a feeling of openness and community. And, they allow air circulation and more sunshine, and opportunities for passive solar with low sun angles in winter. And, as I mentioned above, they are safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and skateboarders. They also really give you a workout, if you have to walk around to do errands over the lunch break.
Here’s a view from one of the skybridges in Kemper Freeman’s Bellevue Square, in Bellevue, noted for its wide streets and fast moving traffic. 7 lanes below; other streets are 6. There are also wide sidewalks, and the streets are wider and bike friendly, without the need for bike lanes.
Also note the diminished setbacks in smart growth, whereas the sign in Phoenix below indicates that the setback is 17′ minimum. As a designer I can tell you that wide residential streets of at least 50′-66′ and 25 foot setbacks make the best and safest neighborhoods.
Therefore, if one is going to exercise Smart Growth Principles with their design, there are certain safety rules that last forever. A 22 foot wide street at Talus or Issaquah Highlands near Seattle is not safe when it’s choked with parked cars, bikes, skateboarders, and pedestrians. NW Crossing in Bend (pictured above) is safer, because the streets are much wider.
Below, more Examples of Nice, Safe, Wide Streets, Great for Cycling, Basketball, Football, Skateboarding, etc. And, even wheelchairs feel safe in the bike lanes in the Phoenix neighborhood of Tramanto. Also featured below are wide streets in Mesa, Arizona, and prestigious, rich Seattle area neighborhoods of Kirkland and Normandy Park. However, many less costly neighborhoods also offer wide streets, such as the new neighborhood below in Bonney Lake, Washington. We also see photos of wide streets in Flagstaff, Arizona, and Ellensburg, Washington.
Bend and its people do not want what Eugene has. They also do not want expensive housing, as occurs when the supply of land is limited by urban growth boundaries., as the Central Oregon Association of Realtors explains (from the Bend Bulletin, “Real Estate Expense – City’s plans for growth could set precedents,” May 10, 2009):
“Citing the city’s phenomenal growth over the past decade, groups like the Central Oregon Association of Realtors argued that the city’s land supply had not kept pace. They pushed for the city to bring in as much land as possible, saying that otherwise, scarce land would make new homes too expensive.”
The article continues:
“In early 2007, the city estimated the UGB needed to grow by 3,125 acres to accommodate growth. But that estimate grew as a result of a City Council directive that set a goal of as big an expansion as possible. The final plan included 8,468 acres, which the city said was necessary to provide enough land for new homes, businesses and jobs.”
“In a series of letters through November 2008, however, DLCD said the city was using questionable methodology and bringing in too much land, contrary to land use goals that encourage more compact urban development in order to preserve forest and farmland.”
A similar statement appears in another Bend Bulletin article on Dec. 20, 2009 entitled “State’s first review of Bend growth plan finds fatal flaws.”
“The report questions whether the city needed to grow onto land currently designated agricultural. In fact, the draft documents assert the city could have avoided any expansion at all by employing existing land within the UGB more efficiently, using upzoning and infill to create more density.”
These arguments from Richard Whitman about farms are merely lip service to the arbitrary smart growth philosophy of “farmland preservation,” found on any smart growth advocacy web site. These statements are not grounded in any practical considerations — given that 99% of Eastern Oregon is forest and rangeland. However, whether he wants to or not, Whitman is an attorney and has to uphold Oregon Law, even though it’s clearly not applicable to Eastern Oregon, given the amount of open high desert.
Besides ranching, which can occur in National Forest lands covered with Pines and Junipers, the area around Bend does not support that many farms (compared to the Willamette Valley, for instance). Many farmers would love to sell their land to housing developers and mountain resorts in Eastern Oregon, if not for the restrictions.
Dr. William Fischel at Dartmouth, who found that even if every family of four had one acre, this would only cover 3% of the lower contiguous 48 states (I qoute Dr. Fischel at this link).
Indeed, Bill Robie, Government affairs director of the Central Oregon Association of Realtors, observes the arbitrary nature of the DLCD statewide planning process, in the Bend Bulletin editorial “Land-Use Board Coercive,” July 10, 1010, http://www.bendbulletin.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100710/NEWS01/7100323:
“Anyone harboring the belief that Oregon’s land use planning is a pristine, objective system that preserves some vestige of local self-determination should read Greg Macpherson’s guest column (click here) on Bend’s urban growth boundary expansion.
The system has become just another grubby political exercise by which state officials enforce their personal preferences or arbitrary notions of social and environmental justice, all at the expense of local economies.
Last year, Jefferson County had its economic plans gutted for the crime of crossing swords with a powerful state legislator. Bend must endure the elitist condescension of a suburban politician and panel of political appointees who will ensure that our community doesn’t stray from the sanctified path of carbon-free, high-density growth.”
The following is stunning. Due to the urban growth boundary and high demand, Bill points out that land prices increased by over 1,000 percent from 1997 to 2007:
“Mcpherson asserts a host of benefits that will derive from his preferred growth model, including housing affordability. The facts are not on his side. “Market forces” were not behind the lack of affordable housing in Bend in recent years. A constrained supply resulting from our UGB caused land prices to rise to $467,500 per acre in 2007 from $33,683 in 1997 as demand for housing soared.”
Bill also knows that high density infill condos are not desirable:
“LCDC’s vision for Bend (“In 30 years, Bend should not look like a larger version of just what it is now”) will increase the cost of housing, force developers to build unpopular high-rise, high-density projects (Putnam Pointe, anyone?), upzone established low-density neighborhoods, and reduce our overall livability and desirability. This is what Macpherson means when he says we “should adapt to a changing economy and evolving lifestyles.”
Finally, in urban planning, it’s often useful to look at previous growth rate of a place, and see who they have hired in projecting future growth. As I explained in this post, new housing units in Bend increased by 41% from 2000 to 2008. That exceeds most Western US counties, as you can see by the .pdf link to the article by Bill Bishop at my post.
However, that growth divided the region, by alienating local farmers and members of special interest conservation groups, as explained in this classic 2001 article from the Oregonian. The issues in Bend face many other Western tourist/college towns, such as Durango, Colorado; Ashland, Oregon; Flagstaff, Arizona; Santa Fe, NM; and Boulder, Colorado.
Despite local resistance, Bend has a long tradition of progressive, business friendly and pro-growth policies, receiving high rankings from many economic publications. This article describes previous pro-business City manager David Hales; the current city manager is Eric King. Since the Bend City Council keeps hiring people who want to grow fast, then why not have Richard Whitman manage Western Oregon, and a second Land Chief manage Eastern Oregon?
Certainly, if I wanted to move to Oregon and start a business, I’d choose a town with decades of rapid growth, friendly to entrepreneurs. Bend scored at #46 out of several hundred cities nationwide for Economic Vitality, from William Fruth of the Policom Corporation.
The link below appears in a Mormon publication, since the original article is no longer available at the Bend Bulletin web site:
http://www.mormonstoday.com/011019/T2DHales01.shtml News about Mormons, Mormonism, and the LDS Church; Sent on Mormon-News: 17 Oct, 2001; By Kent Larsen
BEND, OREGON — Faced with divisions over its rapid growth and a decade of struggle to keep up with it, Bend, Oregon has hired experienced city manager David Hales to run the city. And those in Bend City Hall seem excited about his arrival, after meeting him in interviews and tours. Hales, a returned LDS missionary who served in Korea, was also praised as a family man, first and foremost, and an outdoor enthusiast.
But by the mid-1990s Ceterville had grown as much as it could, and Hales was looking for a bigger opportunity, and in 1997 he took a job with Kannapolis, North Carolina, population 36,910. Located 20 miles northwest of Charlotte, the city’s population also grew, 24 percent during the 1990s. There Hales also handled the city’s growth well, “He handled it exceptionally well,” said city councilor Richard Anderson. “He’s very liberal and aggressive in pursuing economic development. He’s highly recognized and accepted well by the community.”
And Anderson says he also handled controversial growth issues well there, walking into a city divided over change and growth, “He dealt with a variety of factions in the city. Some do not like change — especially the older generation. He’s worked with various community groups, the chamber. He was involved with a visioning committee with citizens, and he really pulled these factions together,” Anderson said.
Now Hales faces a similar situation in Bend. The city is also facing divisions over growth. And after looking at more than 60 applicants for the job, city councilors chose Hales, citing his experience, energy, enthusiasm, vision and interpersonal skills.
Hales ready to handle growth issues in Bend (Broken Link, 2001)
Bend Bulletin, 14 Oct, 2001 T2
By Anne Aurand: The Bulletin
Here’s the September 22, 2010 article discussing the order to increase density (upzoning) from Richard Whitman:
City of Bend officials should soon know what they need to do to get state approval for expanding the city’s urban growth boundary.
On Monday, the Oregon Land and Development Commission gave the city a draft of a final order that will essentially govern how and where the city is allowed to grow over the next 20 years.
While city officials are still digesting the 156-page document, they know the city will have to shrink its initial 8,462-acre UGB expansion proposal and come up with a refined plan for guiding future growth as the population increases.
Bend’s initial expansion proposal was shot down by the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development because officials there say the city tried to include too much land without resolving issues related to developing vacant lots in the current UGB, providing enough land for affordable housing, and planning for future transportation and public works needs. The state also wants the city to increase development within its current UGB bounds.
City officials appealed that decision to the commission because they felt the agency was overreaching its legal bounds under state land use laws. That appeal was heard during a series of public hearings in the spring when the commission decided city planners needed to do a little more work on the UGB proposal before it could be approved.
“We always knew that there would be a remand, and we knew that the nature of that remand would be based on the commission’s actions,” Bend Long-Range Planning Manager Brian Shetterly said. “This is the first draft of that remand order, and we want to make sure from our perspective that it’s accurate from what we understood from what the commission decided during the hearings.”
The city has until Oct. 4 to review the order and make sure there are no glaring mistakes that need to be corrected.
No new arguments can be brought up during that review process.
Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development Executive Director Richard Whitman said the city shouldn’t find any surprises in the draft of the final order. The real purpose of the order, he said, is for the city to reanalyze how much growth can occur within the existing UGB and to more thoroughly justify why it needs to expand in other areas.
“There will still be a fairly significant expansion of the urban growth boundary, and it’s going to be up to the city where that expansion is going to occur,” Whitman said. “The main message I would send here is that although it’s been sent back (to the city for more work), the basic decisions are still the decisions for the city, the City Council, the planning commission and the people of the city for what they want the city to look like.”
Bend has already spent an estimated $4 million to create the UGB expansion plan. That process took several years, and Bend Senior Planner Damian Syrnyk said he doesn’t anticipate a new plan will take as long as the first one.
“Since a lot of the groundwork is already done, we don’t expect it’s going to take as long as the first proposal did,” Syrnyk said. “We’re looking at a timeline for maybe 18 to 20 months for completing these and starting the public hearing process.”
The last time Bend expanded its UGB was in 1981 when the city’s population was 17,425. The population is now over 80,000.