Southern Oregon Regional Problem Solving: Background

Why Was this Plan Created?

In the mid-1990s, citizens and farmers who were concerned about the loss of valuable farmland in Jackson County’s Bear Creek Valley came together to discuss a new concept in planning for the growth of our cities: figure out where the most important farmland is, give it protection from urbanization, and then figure out how to grow the cities around it. They proposed creation of a "Farmland Conservation Zone," and suggested areas where it would be appropriate for the cities to expand.

By the year 2000, the County and the cities got involved. While the emphasis on identifying and growing around the best farmland was lost, these players spent nearly 10 years developing a draft of a plan that identifies what lands will be available for urbanization during the next 50 years. That plan has now been approved by the state.

What Does the Plan Do?

The cities that completed the project include Ashland, Central Point, Eagle Point, Medford, Phoenix and Talent. The main product of the effort is the designation of Urban Reserves, or lands that are designated as the first priority for urbanization as the cities grow during the next 50 years. (Learn more about Urban Reserves.) Those areas are shown in green and orange on the map below.

Currently there are about 31,000 acres in the urban growth boundaries (UGBs) of the seven cities. (The city limits are shown in gray. The UGB includes those lands AND those shown in purple—which are the next lands that will be included in the city limits.) Of those, project documents indicate over 8,000 are still available for development (including nearly all of the purple).

The new urban reserve areas total about 8,500 acres (shown in green and orange). Nearly 80 percent of that total is zoned as agricultural land, and more than 1,200 acres (shown in orange) were determined by the Project’s own panel of experts to be critical to the region’s agricultural economy. At a minimum, this is some of the land that would have been identified by the previous project as land to save.

These urban reserves are the first place the cities will be required to look when they attempt to increase the size of their UGBs (and, in turn, when they expand their city limits) in the future. If the population grows as has been forecast, and if the cities actually expand according to this plan, these areas would all be urbanized about 50 years from now.

What Else Is in the Plan?

More recent demographic and economic forecasts are beginning to suggest that it is unlikely that this will be the case. Cities can no longer afford to continuously install new infrastructure (roads, sewers, water lines) while the investments they have already made need maintenance and upgrading. As the Baby Boomers are retiring they are starting to show strong preferences for smaller homes in walkable neighborhoods where they don’t have to drive to meet all of their daily needs. Younger people (in their 20s and 30s) are showing those same preferences. Together these generations make up nearly 50 percent of the US population—and are expected to drive significant changes in the way our cities are designed and built.

The plan adopted by Jackson County includes elements that will make it easier for cities to accommodate those preferences, while also saving taxpayers money, helping to create a more robust transportation system, and protecting the local agricultural economy. Some of these elements are progressive and unique to the region. Read more about these features here.

What Happens Next?

Now that the plan has been approved by the state, it will dictate how the cities in the valley grow for the next 50 years, and will have economic and social consequences for decades after that. The first step in implementing the plan is for each of the cities to analyze their current urban growth boundary and to make adjustments, if necessary. Medford and Central Point are the only two cities that have begun the process of evaluating their UGBs. More information on Medford can be found here; Central Point has not yet established a web page for this work. 1000 Friends will be participating in these processes, and will provide updates and information on how to get involved on the website.

For more information contact our Southern Oregon Planning Advocate Greg Holmes at or (541) 474-1155.

Return to our main Regional Problem Solving page.