Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Why Are Land-Use Deals So Challenging?

M.O. Stevens
The urban growth boundary edge at Bull Mountain outside of Portland shows the line between Farmland and urban development.

Oregon lawmakers are scrambling to fix an urban growth plan for the Portland metro area after a court threw out a four-year-old agreement last week.

It's just the latest skirmish over land-use policy in the Northwest. So why land use deals are so hard to reach?

Branden Born, an associate professor at the Department of Urban Design and Planning at the University of Washington, has seen his share of conflict over how land should be used. He says to understand why this is such a complicated issue, you have to consider the obvious:

"They're not making more land, right? So it's a limited resource."

But Born says land-use planning is controversial even in rural parts of the Northwest, where wide open space is prevalent. He says these kinds of regulations hit home -- in some cases, literally.

"We have a strong understanding of what private property rights are," says Born. "And when we begin to think about regulating land, we are really regulating people's use of that land."

But Born says Northwesterners also have a strong desire to protect natural resources. That conflict between personal rights and the common good is what leads to many land-use battles.