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Railroad District a bust in Talent

TALENT — An area of land designated for city growth for more than 40 years — which has attracted no development proposals — might be removed from the town’s urban growth boundary to allow other parcels to be added through a category swap arrangement.

Removal of the 135-acre Railroad District from the UGB was one of the options presented during a recent City Council study session that looked at ways to add land for residential construction.

The area mostly lies west of the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad tracks, south of Rapp Road and north of Belmont Road.

“At some point it becomes a fiction that that is where your growth is going to be,” said City Manager Sandra Spelliscy, who presented the swap idea at the study session on land-use challenges and opportunities.

City staff are doing more research on the options and will give another presentation before seeking direction from the council, Spelliscy said.

Population projections show a need for more land. City officials have said the lack of land affects housing affordability, and builders, Realtors and developers have noted a lack of land for projects. Getting land-use designations changed can take from 18 to 24 months — or longer.

Railroad District resident Mary Tsui presented nine signed documents to the city during the study session from property owners in the area saying they did not want to develop. One property owner in the Railroad District did not submit such a request, she said. The owners had previously gone to the Planning Commission and asked it to deactivate a master plan for the Railroad District that was adopted in 2007.

“From a planning standpoint it makes perfect sense to remove the land that no one wants to develop,” said Community Development Director Zac Moody. Presence of the Railroad District counts against the city when it looks at adding land for development. Some of the area is on hillsides, reducing potential density. Access to property parcels would also need to be secured.

Talent has several areas within its UGB with the potential for annexation into the city for development. The city also has urban reserve areas, designated by the decade-long Regional Problem Solving exercise, that could be used for future expansion.

City officials had been on a path to include two urban reserve areas north of the city into the city boundaries. In March 2018, City Council direct staff to begin an amendment to the RPS plan to remove criteria on two areas just north of city limits to add land for future residential growth. The criteria had called for some of the land to be used for commercial and/or light industrial development. Talent was operating with Portland State University 2015 population projections that showed a deficit of 642 dwelling units over 20 years.

But in spring 2018, PSU’s Population Research Center revised growth numbers and projected a deficit of 123 units over the next 20 years. As a result, the need for developable land dropped from 109 to 14 acres.

Even if the city attempts the land swap, it would still need to go through the RPS amendment process to remove the criteria.

TA-4, an urban reserve area of 21 acres north of Colver Road and west of Highway 99, might be the land sought in the swap. Pacific Power has a facility in the area, and there is also a church-owned cemetery, so the amount of buildable land available might be about 17 acres, Moody told the council. Among the six landowners is Laz Ayala, a developer.

Other options for adding land include the regular UGB expansion process and an expedited process for such additions approve by the 2013 Legislature that requires less documentation, Spelliscy told the council.

About a year ago, the city of Sutherlin in Douglas County did a land classification swap, said Josh LeBombard, regional Community Services Division representative for the Department of Land Conservation and Development. Roseburg is in the process of doing a similar swap. A regular UGB amendment requires a number of studies by jurisdictions, said LeBombard. They include a buildable lands analysis, an economic opportunity study and a housing needs analysis.

“What the land swaps does is essentially eliminate having to do these studies,” said LeBombard. The swap is not acre-for-acre but rather based on density capacity. For example, fewer residence can be built on steep hillside land compared to flat land. State policies favor reducing the amount of land added to municipalities when possible, he said.

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

Talent City Hall