This week, Fast Company profiled Saratopia, a local spoof on Portlandia, which itself is a spoof on the quirky ways of Portland. Self-deprecating, brainy creativity is not the only thing we share. We both have maps with a controversial line – the urban boundary.
Portland’s Urban Growth Boundary was set up in the 1970’s to protect its Cascadia-ness - trees, salmon and hiking trails. Under Oregon law, the regional governing body, Metro, has to maintain a 20-year supply of residential land, or else increase the boundary.
Like Portland, Sarasota County drew an urban services boundary in the 1970’s. Over the years, voters have strengthened the line, which runs roughly along I-75 North-South alignment (but does some weird jiggles in the northern and southern parts of the County). The line can be moved, but only with a unanimous vote of the County Board.
While both boundaries have their critics (see here for Portland and here for Sarasota), there is no doubt that (1) both have shaped growth in the direction intended – infill and redevelopment, and (2) both have amazing natural landscapes (also known as economic engines) that are sensitive to the effects of poor land management.
These boundaries are not perfect, and their ability to juggle many different community aims, such as property rights, infrastructure costs, affordable housing and economic development requires a deft touch. Many studies on the Portland boundary deliver mixed reviews, in part because study time frames were short and reviews of affordability were conducted while many non-boundary related forces were driving up prices.
But there is one striking observation from Portland that merits attention here in SW Florida. The 24 municipalities within Metro are required to make public facility plans that ensure that zones inside the UGB will be developed at urban densities. Studies on development not located in cities found a pattern of low density and sprawling patterns – both inside and outside the boundary, though mostly in areas straddling the line. So what would this have to do with Sarasota?
- Sarasota 2050 was intended to make sure that land inside the USB was developed according to good planning and redevelopment principles, while allowing development outside the USB in village formats. However 2050, which should have been 90% about redevelopment and 10% about what happened outside the boundary, was flipped. All the oxygen in the conversation landed on a town center in rural lands, a fiery discussion still raging today. The conversation on redevelopment did not really ever take off.
- In looking at the bigger development proposals that have come forward over the past several years, they tend to all hug the USB. These are the larger undeveloped parcels. Within the cities, there is a fair amount of small site, single-project infill.
- One way to look at projects within the USB is that the more inefficient they are, the faster we run out of “room” inside the boundary and the higher the pressure on all five Commissioners to expand the boundary. ("Room” is in quotation marks because the County typically looks at conventional, sprawl-type development to calculate developable land and remaining capacity. Vertical capacity of the two and three story type will be great grist for a future post).
This is what makes the discussions on Fruitville Initiative and the original University Town Center plans so important. Benderson asked for a dismantle of its new urbanist plan and is now preparing to build the only non-Mormon, enclosed mall in the country. The Fruitville plan (consultant rendering by Moule and Polyzoides here) was criticized for its density, but in the grand scheme of things, will be the type of development that holds the line. The more sprawl inside the boundary the sooner the line goes eastward.