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Phoenix growth option back on track

PHOENIX — With just nine acres of buildable residential land currently available, city officials worried earlier this year that reduced population growth projections might put a halt to expansion attempts. But figures recently revised upwards will allow the city to add more land for development.

“They will likely be able to expand, maybe not quite as much as they wanted to,” said Josh LeBombard, Southern Oregon regional representative for the Department of Land Conservation and Development Community Services Division. “Phoenix population growth has been constrained by land availability for a number of years.”

Land east of Interstate 5 and north of Fern Valley Road is a probable area for growth, said Phoenix Planning Director Evan MacKenzie.

Preliminary projections prepared for DLCD earlier this year predicted less growth in Southern Oregon overall and showed little for Phoenix. Estimates from 2015 had predicted more robust growth. The figures are used when considering land additions.

LeBombard challenged preliminary figures from Portland State University’s Population Research Center. Challenges are allowed in the process. PSU’s final report has revised numbers upwards.

Currently at a population of 4,861, the city is projected to grow to 5,967 by 2043. The 2015 forecast had projected 7,651 residents by 2043, a difference of 1,683. A 14-year forecast predicts 5,434 residents in the year 2032, a .8 percent annual increase. The 2068 population is projected at 7,124.

“It’s more favorable than the original (PSU preliminary) estimate, but it’s not more favorable than the old estimate,” said City Planning Director Evan MacKenzie. “By our estimates we have nine or so acres that are likely to get built. The other land would be built at great expense. When your supply is limited, you don’t get many proposals.

“It’s very much a catch 22,” said MacKenzie. A lack of land for building in this decade meant that the town showed little growth. Recent growth rates are used in calculating future growth, but with little projected increase the city might have had a difficult time justifying land addition.

Two areas east of Interstate 5 identified in the Regional Problem-Solving initiative gives Phoenix areas for urban growth boundary expansion. They include the 453-acre PH-5 land on both sides of North Phoenix Road and the 43-acre PH-10 area north of Fern Valley Road. Lands initially would be brought into the UGB, then later annexed into city limits.

Phoenix’s Planning Commission and City Council must first approve any expansion, then Jackson County would consider the request before DLCD would make a decision.

LeBombard challenged the preliminary projections issued in March. After the challenge PSU opted to use growth rates from 2000 to 2010 rather than 2010 to 2018 to calculate the final report because lack of land for growth in the latter period was a factor in the numbers.

A new, streamlined state process for adding land to city UGBs may speed up city efforts.

DLCD has revised expansion guidelines over the last five years to offer quicker rulings and to base projections on less aspirational data, said LeBombard. Previously cities supplied their own growth projections every 10 years but that changed earlier this decade when DLCD switched to PSU’s center doing the work every four years.

“Cities often want to do a bigger bite all at once because it does take a lot of work,” said LeBombard. “Cities can take a smaller bite now on land they want, but they can do it more often. We created a more streamlined process. It takes away lot of the uncertainty.”

While cities can still use the old process, the new one is based on statewide growth data and requires the cities keep their applications within certain parameters or “sideboards.” Under the new method. less data is required and appeals options are cut back.

“If they stay in these sideboards it can’t be appealed on those parameters,” said LeBombard. “It narrows opportunities for appeals. That is one of the things that drags out the process.”

The Planning Commission and City Council likely will look to add land for housing needs later this year, MacKenzie said.

“We will take a look at that (streamlined process). That may be the route we go. What that will mean is smaller rather than large additions,” said MacKenzie.

“I think it’s safe to say (the council and commission) would like to see us expand with larger rather than smaller chunks.”

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Mail Tribune / File Photo Jim Sharp of the Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency points out a billboard about an urban wetlands project in 2015.