What Are We Willing to Sacrifice to Find New Industrial Lands?

12-3-13  Guest blog by Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director, Audubon Society of Portland; first printed in Audubon’s newsletter the Warbler, Dec. 2013

The City of Portland has reached a major decision point that will define whether it retains its reputation as a “green” city in the coming decades. Over the next year, the City will complete work on its Comprehensive Plan Update. The Comprehenisive Plan is the land use plan for the City that guides future growth and development. Among the most difficult issues to be addressed in this process is the challenge of finding new industrial lands. Under Statewide Land Use Planning Goal 9, cities are supposed to maintain a 20-year supply of industrial land.

However, Portland is a landlocked city surrounded by other cities and has run out of undeveloped industrial parcels on which to expand. Analysis conducted by the City and Metro, based in large part on information provided by self-interested industrial landowners, has determined that Portland needs approximately 670 acres of new industrial land. As a result much of the Comprehensive Plan Update process has focused on a desperate search to find these 670 acres. Proposals to meet this demand for new industrial land include developing 300 acres of irreplaceable wildlife habitat on West Hayden Island, converting significant portions of 4 golf courses in North Portland to industrial use, limiting environmental regulations on industrial lands, integrating industrial development into neighborhoods, and cleaning up brownfields and restoring them to productive use. In short, the City is considering sacrificing the health of our environment, our valuable greenspaces, and the livability of our neighborhoods in order to meet this arbitrary target. However, there are some important things to understand that are often left out of the discussion.

First, it is critical to understand that the land use system does allow the City to inform the State that it has run out of land and is unable to meet industrial land targets. State land use planning goals do not require the City to sacrifice our environment or our neighborhoods in order to meet industrial land goals. In fact Goal 9 explicitly states that industrial land objectives “should consider as a major determinant, the carrying capacity of the air, land and water resources of the planning area.” Instead, Portland should inform the State that it will meet job targets through strategies other than creation of new industrial lands.

Second, the City has over 900 acres of brownfields — contaminated industrial sites that have either limited or no productive use. In short there are more than enough brownfield sites to meet the industrial land deficit. The problem has been that owners of these sites have been reticent to invest the capital to clean them up and put them back into productive use generic cialis overnight shipping. It is absolutely critical that the City develop an aggressive strategy to hold polluters accountable for these sites through a combination of enforcement actions and incentives.

Finally, to the degree an industrial land crisis exists at all, it is a self-inflicted crisis. Although City forecasts predict a surplus of commercial and residential property, the City and industrial stakeholders have spent the last 15 years rapidly converting industrial lands to residential and commercial uses. Today the City brags about the transformation of the Pearl District and South Waterfront from “industrial wasteland” to high-end development. The Port of Portland, one of the loudest advocates for more industrial land, sold its property at Terminal One to make way for low-rise condos and it converted industrial land next to Portland International Airport for a big-box shopping center. Whether intentional or not, the strategy pursued by both industrial interests and the City over the past 15 years has been one of allowing industrial land owners to cash out by upzoning their industrial land to more profitable use and then backfilling the industrial land deficit through conversion of greenspace.

Audubon is participating in the Comprehensive Plan Update Process and will be advocating for the following strategy:

  • The City should inform the State that it has run out of adequate undeveloped land to meet industrial land forecasts and therefore will develop other strategies to meet jobs supply objectives. This does not mean that the City will never add new industrial land to the inventory, but it does mean that the City will not be held hostage to an artificial target that would necessitate destruction of natural areas, open space, and neighborhoods.
  • The City should develop an aggressive strategy to force industrial polluters to clean up brownfields. This should include a combination of enforcement actions as well as non-subsidy-based incentives.
  • The City should put in place regulatory and non- regulatory programs to increase use intensification on the existing industrial landbase, something that is already occurring in cities in Europe and Asia that have a limited land supply.
  • The City should put in place strong protections to prevent the rezoning of existing industrial lands except in extraordinary cases.
  • The City and State should take a hard look at strategies to promote real collaboration and cooperation and potentially unification of the Columbia River Ports in order to maximize efficient use of land, promote a sustainable regional Port economy, and stabilize our Port system, which is on the brink of system failure. This is something which has been in the Port of Portland’s Marine Terminals Master Plan since 1991 but which has never been seriously pursued.

We will keep you updated about opportunities to comment on the Comprehensive Plan Update during the coming year.

You can leave comments for Bob below and write him at bsallinger@audubonportland.org to get on his list re: the Comp Plan.

4 thoughts on “What Are We Willing to Sacrifice to Find New Industrial Lands?

  1. Mary Vogel Post author

    I believe that part of the reason the City of Portland is going after golf courses and Hayden Island is that they still believe in the myth that large lot industrial lands create the most employment. However, as the October 2011 testimony to Metro Council opposing UGB expansion by Mary Kyle McCurdy points out:

    There is a lack of evidence to support the conclusion that there is a demand for
    large lots. In contrast, from 1960-2006, 12 employers that originated in Oregon grew from small
    businesses to the size of a “large employer.”[10] Not all these large employers locate on large lots. Only 60 existing businesses in the metro region are located on parcels over 25 acres in size, which itself is a generous definition of “large lot.”

    Those 60 large lot users account for only 8.1% of the total employees in the region. If one takes out
    the institutional employers – all of which are medical centers – that drops to 5.7%.[11] As noted in the
    UGR [see footnote 8], because institutional uses locate near where people live, it might be more reasonable to assume that in the future, they will locate in smaller building formats that do not require large UGB expansions.[12]

    The conclusion to be drawn from the data that Metro’s own report points out is that employment on large lots has historically provided a very small proportion of the region’s employment–and this will continue. The most important source of job growth in the region and nationally is from existing small businesses and small start-ups. This is where the City of Portland and the region should be focusing infrastructure and other tools.

    ______________________

    8 All information is from Metro’s 2009 – 2030 Urban Growth Report. The UGR’s “definition of a large employer
    recognizes these differences by varying employment minimums for each building type.” 2009 – 2030 Urban Growth
    Report; APPENDIX 4, A4‐2.
    Id., Table 2.
    10 Id., Table 2.
    11 Id., p. 6.
    12 Id., p. 12.

  2. Jean SmilingCoyote

    I’m all for going after golf courses and brownfields. And I know that the sacrifice of industrial lands to residential and retail uses has been going on in many cities; not a trend I like.
    Apart from that Statewide Land Use Planning Goal, the question is, what is required to be manufactured in Portland, for which there is not enough land available that has already been wrested from the embrace of Nature (e.g. brownfields)? Where are the entrepreneurs who say, ‘I want to engage in this specified industry in Portland, and need land’?

  3. MARÍA A. GEBAUER-MUÑOZ

    The strategy you mentioned to develop Portland seems the adequate one in order to maintain the green valuable spaces of the city and not to force the authorities to fix an industrial land which does not seem necessary according to the brownfields unused or polluted spaces whose owners maintain waiting for the increase value of their land. The citizens and their needs are more valuable than the profit anyone wants to have for its own benefit.

    1. Mary Vogel Post author

      Thank you Maria–well-spoken! Your words bring to mind the campaign of some friends of mine who have a campaign for significant change in tax policy via a land value tax: http://www.commongroundorwa.org/. Oregon will be looking closely at changing tax policy in 2014, so it may just have some chance of gaining traction.

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