1/2, 1/4?…okay 5,000 sq feet…

“I’d like a house on a 1/2 an acre,” says the buyer on the phone. I have had this conversation with several people that want to relocate out to this area.   I often find myself explaining that in Oregon, all cities are required to have an urban growth boundary per state law. I seem to be talking about it a lot these days so might as well blog about it…

Urban growth boundaries in Salem OregonUrban growth boundaries define Oregon cities. Anyone who has relocated here from another part of the country know that our cities are compact and sometimes people feel claustrophobic here. Having a neighbor “towering” over their house is a big deal to many home buyers and there is a lot of arborvitae here in Oregon yards as people try to create more privacy.

What is an urban growth boundary?
In 1973 the Oregon legislature passed legislation that all Oregon cities will have an urban growth boundary. The boundary is a line created locally that defines where the growth will occur in a city. Once the line is drawn, development needs to occur in the boundary and not out of it.

What is the point?
In short it is an effort to prevent sprawl. Anyone who has been to Chicago or LA knows what sprawl looks like. The point of the UGB is to control where the growth occurs. This helps to preserve farmland, watersheds, and makes city services more compact.

What are the consequences?

With anything there are positive and negative consequences for anything. Here, we have small lots. I am constantly telling people that a 1/2 acre lot with a new construction home is a long shot. For people moving to Salem Oregon, this can be a big surprise and often people feel constrained here. Developers put as many homes as possible on the smallest lot possible since development is limited. In the boom, this was a problem as land prices skyrocketed out here. Now…we have around a 25 year inventory of lots. Plenty of home lots to go around.

A positive aspect is that areas that are starting to get run down tend to get revitalized faster as investors go in and starting fixing those areas. Since they are limited about where development can occur, areas tend to get redeveloped faster…I think anyway. One of the things that was glaring to me when I came out to Oregon 20 years ago was that the cities had bad areas, but nothing like the cities I had seen in Illinois. It seemed like in Illinois that developers would just buy some new farmland and create new rather than recycling the older parts of cities.

So, for those of you considering moving to the Salem Oregon area, keep in mind that we have UGB’s here that impact the size of our lots.  So if you want 1/2 acre, 1/4 acre…just know that large lots are typically with older homes out here.  If it’s any consolation, I think you’ll find that you are spending too much time hanging out at Silverfalls State Park or heading to the coast to worry about who is going to mow that large lot.

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5 Comments on “1/2, 1/4?…okay 5,000 sq feet…”

  • Pam March 5th, 2010 4:08 pm

    Thanks for posting that, Melina! It’s going to be quite a change from our large Montana lot! My husband will be very happy with less mowing to do.

  • Melina Tomson March 5th, 2010 10:53 pm

    Pam you know it will, but what I have found is that I spend so much time going other places and doing things in the area that I’m glad I don’t have a large lot to take care of.

  • Malcolm Johnston March 9th, 2010 5:57 pm

    This actually sounds like some pretty forward-thinking urban planning. It’s much more environmentally friendly to have smaller urban centres with decent public transportation. The downside, as you mentioned is lot size. People just have to get used to it.

  • Will March 15th, 2010 1:25 pm


    The map of the UGB and Salem city limits raises another question: Why is the area around Chemeketa Community College unincorporated, yet surrounded on three sides by Salem? It’s almost all developed, including many large, dense apartment complexes.

    Is there any history to that?

  • Melina Tomson March 16th, 2010 12:48 pm

    You know Will I don’t know the answer to that question. Those houses are on city water so I wonder if maybe that part of that map hasn’t been updated?