Farming in Urban Reserves?

At a recent City Club of Portland Friday Forum, Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey voiced a common misperception about Urban Reserves.

“There’s no down side to having too much urban reserves because if it’s not needed we won’t use it.”

We have too often heard this excuse for making Urban Reserves larger than necessary. Is it true? I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

Farmers can technically continue to farm after their land is brought into the Urban Reserve. The real question is not CAN they farm, it is whether farmers actually WILL keep farming if their land is designated Urban Reserve. Planners know from years of experience at the edge of the UGB that speculation alone has reduced the number, size and viability of farms on the urban edge. If we loose farms now just due to proximity to the UGB, then we will only loose more farms with an Urban Reserves designation. This reduction in farming will happen based on the designation alone, regardless of whether the land is actually ever urbanized or not!

The knowledge that their land may eventually be urbanized, regardless of the timeline, discourages farmers from making the long term capital investments that are necessary to sustain a viable farming operation. It also discourages land owners from offering the long term leases to farmers that are necessary to sustain a viable farming operation. We also know from past experience along the edge of the UGB that speculation raises the price of land so even farmers who want to keep farming can’t afford to expand their operations. Already farmers are questioning their ability to continue in areas being considered for Urban Reserves. This article in the Hillsboro Argus is but one recent example.

We know that people in the Portland Metro region care deeply about protecting farmland. In a recent Metro survey, 70% said that protecting farm & forest lands should be the most important consideration for choosing between urban & rural designation. Please contact your county commissioner today and remind them to show restraint as they designate Urban Reserves. If we don’t, there will be a very real down side – we’ll lose the farms.