In its reporting for the last meeting of the Citizen's Advisory Committee for the Central Westside Plan, which aims to emphasize biking, walking and mixed-use projects in areas that are currently nonresidential, The Bulletin interviewed LandWatch's Moey Newbold, a member of the committee. Find the draft plan here: http://bendoregon.gov/index.aspx?page=1289
Final comments are due Friday, April 15, 2016 to email@example.com.
By Tyler Leeds/ The Bulletin/ Published April 10, 2016
After a dinner of pizza and mini-cupcakes Thursday evening, a citizen committee advising the city on the future of development and transit on Bend’s west side wrapped up its efforts with a discussion of the area’s history.
While the lumber mills are gone, a number of mill homes remain, and the committee’s main message to the city is that if growth has to occur, the neighborhood of mostly single-family homes should be allowed to endure.
That doesn’t mean growth won’t happen, as the committee endorsed a plan to turn a swath of land roughly bounded by the Deschutes River, Mt. Washington Drive, Simpson Avenue and Commerce Avenue into a mixed-use district with building heights of up to five stories. That area, home to Deschutes Brewery, OSU-Cascades’ new campus and a Safeway, is mostly devoid of homes.
To make sure the anticipated new residents and businesses don’t overwhelm the greater west side, the committee also backed a series of projects meant to make it easier to walk, bike and drive through the area, and to ensure those three modes of travel can coexist safely.
The committee’s recommendations now make up a draft of what’s called the Central Westside Plan, which will need to be reviewed by the Planning Commission and City Council before taking root. City staff members say the plan is unusual not only for the depth of community involvement in its drafting, but also the clarity it offers developers hoping to come into the area. While it will take money the city doesn’t have on hand and the passing of about 25 years to fully realize, the plan offers the city a model for joining land use planning and transportation planning.
The city’s Growth Management Director Nick Arnis said the plan was initially a response to a problem builders were encountering on the west side. When a project is proposed anywhere in the city, the developer must conduct an analysis of how it would affect intersections; then the developer is left paying for any upgrades those intersections may need to handle more traffic. On the west side, developers were experiencing sticker shock, Arnis noted.
One goal of the Central Westside Plan is to identify a list of transportation projects the community backs and that can be prioritized in a way that makes the most sense for the area. Instead of making small changes to intersections development by development, this plan is long term and looks across the entire neighborhood. As builders propose projects, they’ll have to contribute a cut of the cost to fund the transportation projects.
“It’s a clear and objective path for developers, who will know ahead of time what they’ll have to pay,” Arnis said in an interview last week. “But it’s also for the community, so they know what kinds of developments and what kinds of transportation improvements will be coming.”
Instead of widening roads to cut down on congestion, the goal is to make it easier to get around on foot or bike. For example, the draft plan calls for three bike boulevards, sections of roadway that will give priority to bicycle traffic over vehicle traffic. There are also plans to add more marked crosswalks, especially along 14th Street and Century Drive, and to widen pedestrian bridge crossings.
Arnis emphasized the importance of drawing on a range of community input, not only through the 22-member committee but also via open houses and an online survey. Moey Newbold, a committee member who works for Central Oregon LandWatch, called the group “pretty diverse.”
“I think the process has gone well,” she added. “The area is really popular and growth will continue to happen no matter what. This will channel growth on a set out plan rather than just letting it happen.”
At the beginning of the committee’s final meeting Thursday, Arnis commented it was “remarkable” that the panel’s plan jived with what city planners and outside consultants thought would work for the area.
In general, the group considered a range of options for different levels of density. These spanned from encouraging multifamily projects in existing residential areas to leaving those neighborhoods for single-family homes, something the group ultimately decided upon.
Regardless, the new mixed-use district will be ripe for multifamily housing, something that has a few people on edge.
“I spoke with a couple at a Century West Neighborhood Association meeting worried about affordable housing coming into the area,” Arnis recounted. “I tried to tell them the issue will be in keeping prices down.”
Arnis noted mixed-use developments, such as a three-story building with a cafe on the ground floor and two stories of apartments or condos above, often come with high rents.
“What’s been found around the country and certainly in areas of Portland is that these kinds of areas are very desirable,” Arnis said. “People like the proximity to retail, parks, meeting centers — what we call amenities.”
Senior planner Karen Swirsky noted the committee never brought up the topic of housing affordability.
“People were mostly concerned about protecting the existing neighborhood character,” she said, adding the intent was to contain most of the growth to the mixed-use district, which today consists mostly of offices, businesses and small industrial buildings.
While Arnis said the west side’s high housing prices are on his mind, he emphasized the cost of living in an area can go down when walking and biking is easy, as it’s possible to forgo a car.
At this final meeting, the theme of protecting neighborhoods came up multiple times, with committee member Madeleine Simmons, a west-side resident, making repeated references to “buffering” residential areas from both new and existing commercial uses.
However, while the plan may call for protecting existing neighborhoods, a massive overhaul to the city’s development rules is looming. The city is in the process of expanding its urban growth boundary, which limits where the city is able to develop. To get an expansion approved, the state has required the city to embrace more density within its borders.
Most of that will be focused in “opportunity areas” that are not overly residential, a set of locations that includes the mixed-use district within the Central Westside Plan. However, the city is also looking at tweaking rules that apply across the entire city to increase residential density. No existing buildings will be forced to redevelop to meet new standards, but the prospect of greater density, and the profits it can bring, can entice developers to tear down and rebuild.
While the urban growth boundary expansion is meant to accommodate population growth through 2028, the Central Westside Plan has a horizon of 2040, meaning the city doesn’t expect the area to change dramatically any time soon. In addition to council approval, the plan must clear a number of hurdles before it’s implemented.
A large one is technical, as the new approach to transportation improvements would require changes to the rules governing development in the city. Additionally, the city doesn’t have a pot of money laying around to pay for all the transportation projects the plan calls for.
Some of the projects are already on a citywide to-do list, including two roundabouts on Columbia Avenue. Along 14th Street, the city has about $4 million ready to spend, the balance from a bond voters approved in 2011.
One task left will be how to prioritize which projects to fund first. At Thursday’s meeting, Swirsky emphasized that this work will be driven by community input.
While this plan is a new approach for the city, Arnis said he’s hopeful it could be replicated elsewhere.
“The underlying message here is, ‘Hey, let’s try this, and if it works, nothing should stop us from looking to other areas of the city,’” Arnis said. “We could break the city up into different study areas, where we have land use and transportation working together with community input. The city is diverse, so the issues we have on the west side will be different from elsewhere.”
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