Controlled growth

What is controlled growth?

Controlled growth is a method by which a local government manages the density, type and amount of new construction within a given area by putting a set of limitations in place.

Cities, counties and other jurisdictions are authorized to create plans to control the growth within their borders.

Deeper definition

At the local level, limits on growth are part of the jurisdiction’s bylaws, regulations, planning documents and building codes that establish the criteria and operational rules for development.

These restrictions affect the price of existing construction units, but as a result, the local government becomes better positioned to deliver its services efficiently.

Through controlled-growth policies, governments can give approval, provide conditions or refuse an application for new construction. The regulations control the acceptable height, densities, building materials, external design and open-space provisions.

The purpose of controlled growth is to:

  • Provide for a sustainable and stable supply of quality housing.
  • Make sure that building and planning contribute to balanced and manageable development.
  • Support and promote the growth of inclusive and vibrant communities.
  • Manage adequate water supply.
  • Support democratic, efficient and responsive local government providing quality fire services, emergency services and transportation improvements, and by protecting buildings and places of historic value.

In addition, cities control growth by writing comprehensive plans, by imposing impact fees and by implement zoning laws that limit the number of people living in structures in that city or area, and the size and height of those structures.

The first statewide urban growth boundary policy — essentially statewide land use planning laws — was put in place in Oregon in the 1970s. The guidelines required every city and county in Oregon to have a long-range plan to address future growth.

Controlled growth examples

An Environmental Protection Agency report in 2014 said a key controlled growth strategy that local governments can pursue to lower costs is supporting compact development in already developed places.

Water, sewer and road infrastructure cost less in compact development than in more widely dispersed development. In addition, ongoing expenses, including those for police, street maintenance, trash removal, and fire and emergency services, are higher per capita when development is dispersed and when infrastructure must serve people across a larger geographic area.


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