January 21, 2002 11:00 pm

A discussion has arisen both at the city (La Grande and Island City) and the county levels about expanding the urban growth boundary. If such a discussion were to eventually go beyond talk to a plan to officially expand the boundary, the proposed beneficiary of that move would be a national retail chain.

We have nothing against this national retailer or any other retailer that wishes to grow their business. What we would question is the need, based on the current land use laws in Oregon, for expanding the UGB in order to accommodate a retailer. The future zoning of the subject property will have to be addressed someday, but it should be based on community need.

Under Oregons land use laws, the UGB can be expanded if a legitimate need can be shown. The most common reasons for expanding the boundary would be for rapid growth and development in an area. We only have to look at the surrounding areas of metropolitan Portland to see how rural areas have been gobbled up by both residential and commercial development, not always with a positive result.

In Union County, there has been little to no growth in the past 30 years. Most of the manufacturing jobs that have been added to the countys inventory have been easily handled at the Baum Industrial Park or at the airport. Both places have current inventory that could be used up in the next few years if proposed plans were to be implemented. At the same time, some of the citys industrial lands have been recently rezoned to light industrial or for a proposed business park use.

Along Gekeler Lane near Highway 30 more than 80 acres of property sits idle that could be turned into various uses including retail. And even though Boise Cascade owns property in several locations within Union County, the Jackson Avenue mill near Island Avenue could someday be moved to another site and free up a large amount of land that would meet needs far into the future for both residential and commercial.

We strongly oppose any expansion of the UGB if the purpose is to create space for a retailer. To revise the countys and citys comprehensive plan for a retailer would certainly marshall opposition from land-use watchdogs such as 1000 Friends of Oregon and others. The proper time to fight for expanding the UGB would be for adding industrial land that could be sold to companies that would provide family wage jobs in manufacturing or biotech.

There is adequate space for retail expansion downtown and along Gekeler Lane at Highway 30. There is even some space near Bi-Mart. Keeping a balance of large retailers and small retailers is important for the health and well-being of a community.

Goal 9 of Oregons statewide planning goals and guidelines says, To provide adequate opportunities throughout the state for a variety of economic activities vital to the health, welfare, and prosperity of Oregons citizens. Rural communities such as La Grande and Island City have for too long settled for minimum or slightly better paying jobs. It is vital for our area to protect the expansion of the UGB to fights we can win and fights that bring the best for all of us. City councils and county commissioners should recognize that expanding a growth boundary should not be taken lightly or done frivolously.