Close to a hundred people, give or take a few, sat down in the Hillsboro Civic Center’s main auditorium on Thursday to give or listen to testimony regarding the fate of Washington County’s open spaces, farmland, and urban areas. The panel of city, county, and Metro officials gathered to hear testimony was a virtual Who’s Who of local government decision-makers from the area, including county commissioners, mayors, and a Metro Councilor. 77 Washington County residents signed up to testify at the public hearing.
Themes that emerged early in the testimony process were a realization that Washington County has one of the fastest-growing populations in the state, that creative ways of meeting the needs of a growing population must be found, and that the livability and sustainability of the region is at risk unless planning proceeds in the most environmentally responsible manner possible.
Some testifiers advocated a business-as-usual approach to planning with an attitude of, “Got more people? No problem! We’ll just build more suburbs.” To these folks, it seems that the current proposal to create 33 thousand more acres of “urban reserves” in Washington County is, if anything, too modest.
To other citizens, however, the proposed move to transform tens of thousands of acres of farmland and rural landscapes into increased urban sprawl signifies a serious dearth of intelligent planning. Global warming and declining reserves of cheap oil worldwide have signaled that reign as the paradigm for urban planning, and an attendant reliance on car-culture across the US, are coming to end.
Peter Lunsford, co-founder of the citizen group Washington County Peak Oil, used the nation of Singapore as an example of urban planning that can render car-culture unnecessary. “The current Washington County land-use proposal assumes 10 residential units per buildable acre,” Lunsford said in his testimony. “In Singapore, this ratio is roughly 90 residential units per buildable acre, and already includes the social and commercial space required to support the residents.”
Citizen advocacy groups like 1000 Friends of Oregon have also expressed serious concerns over the size of proposed urban reserves in Washington County. 1000 Friends reports the reserves are “so large, they will severely damage the future of agriculture in the western part of our region, as well as Northwest Oregon.” Just as a movement away from automobiles as the main means of personal transportation suggests we need compact cities, so the need top preserve open space and farmland dictates that large new urban reserves are a bad idea.
Fortunately, the process of approving a final plan for land use in Washington County is long and drawn out, and there will be many more opportunities for citizens to voice their opinions. Check back here for future updates on how to get involved.