Like many communities in Oregon, Morrow County has a housing shortage. A new county-wide project will aim to find out where the gaps are and work to bridge them.
On Thursday, a group of city and county representatives had their first meeting for the Buildable Lands Inventory and Housing Analysis to assess available lands, and see how those lands can be used.
Morrow County Planning Director Carla McLane said there were representatives from four of Morrow County’s five incorporated cities, as well as a county commissioner, at the closed-door meeting. They met with two planning firms that will conduct the analysis — Angelo Planning Group and Johnson Economics.
Both firms are from Portland, but McLane said both have worked on projects in Eastern Oregon before, including at the Umatilla Army Depot.
The project will cost about $55,000 and is scheduled to be completed by February or March of next year. It will include assessments of lands around Morrow County.
McLane said the project will involve a lot of data collection and input.
“We’re providing them with zoning information, tax lot information,” she said.
The consultants will assess not only what land is available, but also what condition it is in. There may be land that has the potential to be developed but no access to services.
“When we look at our five communities, all five have community water, but only three have community wastewater,” she said. Houses in Ione and Lexington operate on individual septic systems, while Boardman, Heppner and Irrigon have city services.
“That’s a limitation on density for development that other communities wouldn’t necessarily have,” she said.
The study will also look at other potential reasons for slow development in Morrow County.
“Is it about a lack of developers, are our processes too cumbersome? Is the price of land too much?” McLane said. “They may be able to give us some insight into the reality.”
She said the project will look at a variety of long-term issues for the county.
“Do we need to do an urban growth boundary expansion? Do we need to do different zoning?” she said. They may not get all those answers by the end of the study, but she said they hope to get a better immediate understanding of other things — such as the demand is for residential land in south Morrow County.
McLane said there may be a few opportunities for community input, but the project is more focused on analysis.
“There are clear stakeholder groups that (consultants) will want to ask questions of. Builders, developers, real estate agents — people that have their thumb on the pulse of the housing market in Morrow County.”
She said there is no specific action that the county will take at the end of this project, but it will inform potential steps afterward.
She said in the next couple of weeks the firms will begin collecting data from the entire community. They will present some preliminary findings at a meeting in early November.
McLane said she was excited about the project, and that although Eastern Oregon is not unique in its need for housing, it has different needs than the rest of the state.
“I don’t know what all the limits and constraints are, but hopefully this will illuminate some of them so we can target them,” she said.