Springfield Discovers That More Extensive Is More Expensive

The City of Springfield is considering expanding its urban growth boundary to pursue the possibility of new large-scale employment, but recent calculations show the cost to serve any expansion with infrastructure could be overwhelming.

The Register-Guard reports:

City officials have identified five areas where Springfield could expand its urban growth boundary, and roughly calculated how much it would cost to extend sewer and streets and collect stormwater to serve that future development.

City councilors got their first look at those estimates last week while strongly hinting their interest in all or some of three of the five areas: 347 acres north of Gateway; 362 acres of the Seavey Loop area sandwiched between Interstate 5 and Mount Pisgah; and 569 acres in northeast Springfield, north of Highway 126 near 52nd Street.

The estimates show that it would cost $127 million in public and private dollars to prepare North Gateway for development. It would cost $142.5 million and $76 million, respectively, to extend urban services to northeast Springfield and Seavey Loop.

The city staff also looked at the ease with which the infrastructure could be built in the areas. All the areas present challenges such as the need to build bridges, the presence of floodplains, and the extensive regulations governing the channeling of stormwater in waterways that could be home to protected fish.

1000 Friends Willamette Valley Advocate Mia Nelson has been closely involved in Springfield's analysis of its urban growth options. She has urged the City to be realistic about the costs of ignoring redevelopment of existing areas to pursue more expensive growth at the fringes.

While she praises the City for closely examining the costs of growth--something too many cities do not do carefully--the new numbers are a clear "reality check":

She calculated that it would cost at least $424,000 an acre, based on the city’s estimates of acreage in the areas that are not constrained by impediments to development such as floodways, steep slopes and wetlands. Plus, the estimates don’t include providing water and electricity services, and fire and police protection.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to bring land into the urban growth boundary that will cost more to serve than the finished product will be worth,” she said.

Nelson said the city should look closely at the potential for re­development of empty or underused land within Springfield’s existing boundaries. That option has challenges — properties may need to be consolidated and roads may need to be built — but it would be cheaper than expanding city services to vacant land outside the existing boundaries, she said.

1000 Friends strongly believes that Oregon communities should pursue a transparent, accountable strategy for understanding the costs of new growth. Our 2013 report, More Extensive Is More Expensive, explores the burden sprawl places on taxpayers to build and maintain infrastructure. Many Oregon cities have fallen far behind on basic infrastructure maintenance, and continually adding more at the edges exacerbates this problem.

By assessing the impacts and being honest about the choices, cities can grow in a healthy way that makes good use of existing land, respects taxpayers, and protects farms and forests at their fringe.

Springfield's City Council is expected to make a decision by the end of 2014. We'll continue to be closely involved.

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