Advanced Topics in School Siting

Update: This item came back to MPAC last night, and I ultimately voted in favor of it. Interestingly, yesterday’s Oregonian featured an article on how the Beaverton School District had at least temporarily gotten around the challenge by jointly purchasing a parcel with two developers with the understanding that it would be partitioned after comprehensive planning.

I had the opportunity to ask Beaverton Schools officials at the meeting if this was an alternate model that could avoid the need for changing Title 11. The most convincing part of the response was “we’re not land speculators.”

At MPAC earlier in the week, we took up a topic that I hadn’t really ever thought through before: how to site schools in areas newly added to the Urban Growth Boundary.

The issue in front of us was an amendment to Metro’s Title 11, which governs newly added lands. The basic rule is that when land comes inside the UGB, you can’t subdivide it below 20 acre parcels until the comprehensive planning gets done. The idea is to keep the land from being carved up so much that major uses cannot be sited.

The amendment, being pushed by several school districts, was to create an exception for schools and other public uses (parks, fire stations, etc.). The motivation was to allow a school district to go in and buy a school site (probably much less than 20 acres) while the land is still cheap. Of course, the district still can’t build the school until after the zoning gets done. But by then the prices have gone up.

I made the point that schools are anchors for communities and we want to site them as part of the comprehensive planning, so we don’t wind up with families having to drive their kids to school, or do remediation efforts like “Safe Routes to School” after we disconnect them from the transportation network.

The counter-argument is that a district wouldn’t plunk down their scare resources to bank the land unless they had done a lot of consultation and could make a pretty good guess at the basic outlines of the comp plan. Worst case, if they guessed wrong, they could sell the parcel and buy the appropriate one. By buying early, their parcel would likely appreciate about equally with the one they eventually need.

Good idea? Bad idea?

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