North Plains is set to more than double in size over the next 20 years under the current proposal to expand its urban growth boundary, which officials say is in the home stretch.
The small but fast-growing Washington County town aims to bolster its employment lands. Those lands could even include one of two large-scale industrial sites that Oregon lawmakers are scoping out for semiconductor manufacturing.
North Plains’ expansion proposal includes adding about 850 acres to satisfy projected growth. The city currently occupies about 576 acres of land, or roughly 1 square mile.
Of the that growth, the vast majority — 688 acres — is slated specifically for employment land in the “preferred scenario” map posted on the city’s website. Most of that land would be designated for a mix of industrial uses.
The leftovers would be for housing development, though the 500-plus-unit Brynhill housing subdivision has been the largest ongoing development in town for years now. It’s taking up the last buildable land currently within city limits.
“We’re really out of buildable land,” said Andy Varner, North Plains city manager. “So, that’s why the city has really embarked on an effort to expand our UGB.”
The proposed expansion map shows large industrial growth in the west end of town, as well as to the southeast. Residential reserves would be tacked on to the periphery of existing residential areas, south of Northwest West Union Road and north of Northwest North Avenue.
As states across the nation vie for some of the $54 billion in CHIPS and Science Act funding, Oregon hopes to set aside 500-acre industrial plots in both Hillsboro and North Plains for new computer chip industry developments.
For North Plains’ part, the city says its proximity to Hillsboro has already given it strong ties to the area’s tech sector. Many residents there commute the short 15-minute drive to Intel’s Ronler Acres campus or other nearby employers.
Mayor Teri Lenahan laid out these points in testimony presented before the Joint Committee on Semiconductors earlier this year.
She also credited much of North Plains’ rapid growth over the past decade to the presence of these large employers in the community immediately south of town.
“We have been really wanting to grow our city in a way so more people can live, work and play in the city itself,” Lenahan told Pamplin Media Group. “We’re getting into the home stretch, and we’re feeling pretty excited and confident in all the work we’ve been doing over the past couple of years.”
Since the 2010 U.S. Census, North Plains’ population has grown from just under 2,000 residents to nearly 3,500.
This UGB expansion is designed to provide more employment opportunities and a larger tax base from which North Plains can draw, instead of losing most of its workforce to Hillsboro to the south.
Varner pointed out that right now, only a tiny fraction of North Plains’ population actually works in the community.
“We’ve been a workforce housing bedroom community for so long that only 3% of our population that lives here works here,” he said, citing a 2019 transportation system plan analysis. “And that has not worked out very well fiscally for our city.”
Varner said having a mostly residential tax base means North Plains misses out on a lot of the property taxes that communities like Hillsboro enjoy. That lack of revenue has hampered North Plains’ ability to provide all the robust services people come to expect from a city government.
There is no parks department in North Plains, for example, and the city’s public works operations have also been severely limited by these low municipal budgets. The city also relies on deputies supplied by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, rather than having a city-staffed police force.
Adding more industrial land would be a major boon for North Plains, Varner said.
“Our goal is to be a more balanced community and to provide more services,” he said.
The city has also worked closely with Hillsboro in developing its expansion, since the Washington County seat’s industrial growth is pushing its own boundaries northward.
Varner said North Plains has modeled a lot of its industrial goals after what Hillsboro has done in its northern industrial area.
Why North Plains?
North Plains has several conditions that are ripe for industrial expansion. It is not subject to the regional government Metro and is not included within the Portland metro area’s UGB, so it doesn’t have to go through the extra layers of review and approval that communities like Hillsboro must when it wants to expand.
North Plains is mostly surrounded by rural land that doesn’t have many restrictions on its development, so it doesn’t have the same rural reserve concerns that other communities in western Washington County do.
These conditions are why lawmakers like Sen. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro, who co-chairs the semiconductor committee, think North Plains fits nicely into the “land readiness” component of what the CHIPS Act funding is supposed to accomplish.
Companies must be able to prove that they will start building their industrial sites to secure some of the federal funding coming from the CHIPS Act, so communities like North Plains, where land designations can be adjusted quickly to meet industrial needs, are especially attractive.
If approved for one of Oregon’s two new semiconductor campuses, North Plains officials say they already know where the site would go: on the west end of town, along Dershom Road.
While North Plains’ current UGB expansion plan includes this area currently mapped out for state consideration, officials say they would prefer that the Oregon Legislature designate additional industrial lands to accommodate such a large site.
Most of the 500-acre need is already included in the UGB proposal on the west end of town, but there’s another 150 acres to the north that would be needed to meet the total industrial land demand for the state’s target.
“They came up with this 500-acre site proposal when we were really at the 1-yard line,” Varner said. “So, if the governor wanted a super-site — the 500-acre site shown on the west — we would request that be done through a separate legislative effort.”
Oregon Senate Bill 4, proposed by the Joint Committee on Semiconductors, includes a provision that would grant Gov. Tina Kotek temporary authority to bypass Oregon’s lengthy land use process and expand urban growth boundaries with a simple executive order.
The authority would expire in June 2024, but the goal is clear: carve out tracts of buildable land as fast as possible to attract more projects funded through CHIPS Act dollars.
Other states are already offering more incentives like direct investments and tax incentives to try and attract these dollars, so Oregon is hoping to compete and do so quickly.
“We have to realize that … we have all these other states who are emerging and saying, ‘Hey, don’t forget about us,” said Sollman, who co-chairs the joint committee. “Arizona, Texas, Idaho, the Carolinas, Kansas … all of these are states that see what these opportunities mean.”
“The first step is the industrial site readiness,” she added.
Sollman said North Plains fits the bill because of its close proximity to Hillsboro’s already robust tech sector — as well as its proximity to Portland International Airport and major highways that the supply chain relies on.
Sollman previously represented North Plains in the House and then the Senate. Due to redistricting, North Plains now falls within more rural legislative districts represented by Republicans.
Varner said it will take extraordinary legislative action to accomplish what the state wants quickly.
North Plains sees the east end of town as the area where industrial lands could develop quicker — not on the west end, where the 500-acre site is being eyed.
To get buildable land ready in the next couple of years, it will take investments and quick policy action from the state, Varner said.
Whether the semiconductor committee’s vision for the industrial site in town becomes a reality or not, North Plains is going to keep on growing.
“Just to be considered is a great opportunity for us,” Lenahan said. “Obviously we’d love to be chosen, but even if we aren’t, it’s not the end of the world because we’re still moving forward with our urban growth area expansion.
North Plains’ UGB proposal has already received support from the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development. The city planning commission will weigh the proposal first before forwarding it to the North Plains City Council in the coming months.
The UGB expansion would then need to be approved by the Washington County Board of Commissioners.