North Plains update: Effort to double UGB referred to ballot

In September, the small town of North Plains drew big attention for its contentious vote to expand its urban growth boundary (UGB) by more than 850 acres, to bring the town to more than twice its current size, with the majority of the added acres justified for industrial uses, like business parks, warehouse distribution centers, or truck stops. 

Now, a group of North Plains residents has collected enough signatures to refer the UGB expansion to voters on the May 2024 ballot. The unprecedented move means the process from here over the next six months is uncertain.

How this started

A packed city council meeting showing crowd, projection screen, and council members.
At the North Plains City Council in September

Our executive director, Sam Diaz, testified in opposition to the effort, Ordinance 490, in a standing-room-only city council hearing lasting close to midnight. His testimony emphasized the high quality of life, jobs, and housing that result from decisions to build up and in rather than out and down. 

The majority of testimony from individuals who attended the city council hearing also opposed the urban growth boundary expansion. Even so, the North Plains City Council voted 6–1 to expand the urban growth boundary, without change. City council finalized the vote in a work session shortly after. Voting to expand the UGB was Mayor Teri Lenahan and Councilors Russ Sheldon, Cameron Martinez, Rickey Smith, and James Fage. The only vote against came from Councilor Robert “Butch” Kindel.

Washington County Planning Commission then began reviewing the proposed UGB expansion in mid-October, now as Washington County Ordinance 899. As the county’s process kicked off, Washington County senior planner Todd Borkowitz shared, “County staff believes that the city followed the required process for UGB expansion.… Given this, the county must adopt an identical UGB alignment through ordinance.” From this point, both the planning commission and the county commission are able to reject, approve, or send the ordinance back to North Plains with instructions for how to improve the UGB expansion proposal. 

The referendum

Map showing the current North Plains boundary with the expansion area surrounding it mostly to the north, east, and west.
The proposed UGB expansion area

As the Washington County Planning Commission began considering the North Plains UGB expansion, an independent, grassroots group called Friends of North Plains Smart Growth earned 278 signatures from local voters to refer the UGB expansion to the May 2024 ballot.

The referendum – a mechanism that allows registered voters to place an issue on a ballot through a process protected by the Oregon Constitution – raises questions on standard city, county, and Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) processes that otherwise would have continued apace. 

(Friends of North Plains Smart Growth is separate from 1000 Friends of Oregon, a 501(c)(3) statewide nonprofit. We make impact through outreach and education, legislative research and advocacy, and litigation for egregious land use violations as a tool of last resort. We require our board of directors to consider and approve positions on ballot measures, with additional activities to comply with legal requirements.) 

What’s next?

Washington County and LCDC may need or want to pause review and consideration until North Plains residents have voted in the May 2024 election. 

If Washington County and/or LCDC choose to continue the typical UGB expansion process in the meantime, 1000 Friends will continue to organize, research, and testify in search of solutions to meet housing affordability and availability needs in the region, help Oregon compete for more high-quality jobs across the state, and protect irreplaceable farmland, watershed habitat, and wildlands.  

Important dates and milestones we’re aware of:

  • November 15, 2023: Washington County Planning Commission continues discussions about the North Plains UGB expansion proposal. 
  • May 21, 2024: North Plains residents vote as part of the election, deciding whether or to approve or reject the UGB expansion. 

If you live in the immediate area, make sure you’re signed up for our action alerts so you can be notified of engagement opportunities if or when this ordinance is taken back up.