This is a community news release by the Friends of North Plains. Submit your Community News anytime to HillsboroHerald@gmail.com
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Community Organization Takes North Plains’ Expansion to the Voters
North Plains, Oregon: Situated on Highway 26, the City of North Plains sits between Metro’s urban areas to the east and the Coastal Mountain Range to the west. This rural town of 3,424 is the home of the annual Elephant Garlic Festival and is surrounded by farm and forest land.
But a vote of North Plains City Council on Monday, September 18, would change the region’s rural way of life forever by replacing cropland with industrial buildings. The city voted to propose an expansion of its Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) – the line within which the city can urbanize – by 855.2 acres. This would expand the city’s surface area by 2.2 times, and cause it to stretch 3 miles from Dersham Road to Jackson School Road on the northern side of Highway 26.
The City’s vote is not final, and is just the first in a long process that is now in the hands of Washington County. If approved by the County, the decision would pass to the state Land Conservation and Development Commission and be appealable to the Court of Appeals.
In an additional twist, a group of community members is bringing a referendum to overturn the City’s vote. To the organizers’ knowledge, this is the first referendum to overturn a UGB decision.
Friends of North Plains Smart Growth Committee member and North Plains resident Katie Reding stated, “When annexations were decided by a vote of the people, North Plains residents voted down annexation time and again except for one annexation that narrowly passed after strong lobbying by developers. Now that the state legislature shifted the decision from the voters to City government, North Plains City Council approved the biggest annexation ever proposed. And they did that without engaging the community.” The City’s first vote on the UGB expansion in June was remanded because the City failed to meet the legal requirements for public notice.
The City argues that this expansion will help change its “bedroom community” status, but it plans to build primarily large single-family detached residences, which are not only the least affordable for homebuyers and most expensive for municipalities to provide with utilities and infrastructure, but require the most extensive use of land. While only 61% of Washington County homes are single-family detached, North Plains’ share of this type of housing increased from 83% in 2000 to 88% in 2015-2019. The plan would bring this total percentage down to 84%. The city’s 2023 Housing Needs Analysis admits that the city has an affordable housing shortage, and advocates claim that the plan is doing far too little to address this need.
The City also claims that almost 700 acres of industrial land will address its flagging tax revenues. This includes a vision for a 500-acre semiconductor facility to the west of town. However, advocates argue that at least 10,000 acres of industrial land was located inside of UGBs since a 2022 Semiconductor Task Force report failed to find enough land, and that semiconductor manufacturers are improving efficiencies inside existing facilities instead of seeking land inside or outside a UGB. Moreover, the presence of industry does not guarantee increased tax revenue. For example, Good Jobs First recently found that Hillsboro School District alone forgoes $96.7 million annually in tax breaks to industries like Intel.
What’s at stake
North Plains’ proposed expansion would cover some 855 acres of class one and two farmland—the best classes in Oregon. According to Dean Moberg, retired soil conservationist and co-author of The Soils of Oregon, “The proposed North Plains UGB expansion includes sites that vary from approximately 70 to 90% prime farmland. Less than 5% of Oregon is prime farmland and the soil proposed for North Plains urbanization is some of the best farmland soil in the world.” The soils support crops from grass seed to blueberries, but according to Moberg, “could grow almost anything.” The land also supports migratory elk and Tundra swan habitat.
Organizer and farmer, Aaron Nicols, stated,
“I look over at that soil from my farm every day and wish I could farm there. If the city expands, it not only destroys that land forever, but it makes it that much harder for me to feed 500 families on my CSA nearby.” Nichols and other area farmers have explained that the expansion will increase the traffic and neighbor conflicts near their farms, cause agricultural businesses to lose customers and go out of business, affect water tables, and increase the price of farmland – all negatively impacting agriculture.
If a referendum is passed, the North Plains City Council could vote again to expand the UGB, but organizers hope there would be a different process and result.
“What Friends of North Plains Smart Growth is doing is bringing that decision back to the residents of North Plains,” organizer Jacqueline Duyck Jones stated. “Do you want big box tech or priceless farm soil and elk habitat? Do you want huge, unaffordable homes in sprawling subdivisions, or dense and vibrant city centers that you can afford to live in? If you weren’t at the table before the City’s vote, once this referendum passes you can be at the table to redesign your vision for the city.”
To learn more about the referendum, contact friendsnorthplainssmar