Planning for Eugene's Future

Fri, 11/13/2015 - 1:00am

An Overview of The Eugene Planning Process and Next Steps

On October 21, the Eugene city council made a decision that rolls back years of comprehensive planning decisions, by blocking up-zoning of residential areas to accommodate more housing types.  The council made its decision before taking public comments, freezing out the people who would be affected by the council’s hasty decision. This impacts current and future residents, threatens surrounding farm and forest lands, and - at the core - constructs an inequitable housing policy that punishes Eugenians who live in multi-family housing types. This does not reflect Eugene’s values, and it leaves behind so many. On November 9, the council put a pause on the motion, creating time for more conversations and input before planning continues. So, how did we get here?  

In 2007, the Oregon Legislature passed a bill that required Eugene and Springfield to establish separate urban growth boundaries (UGB’s), dividing the metro’s boundaries that had been shared since 1982. This prompted the City of Eugene to dive deep, assessing the needs of a changing and growing community, with new land boundaries for the future. This process, and the subsequent outcomes, is called Envision Eugene.

It’s estimated that  Eugene will see a population increase of around 40,000 residents in the next 20 years, and 90,000 in the next 50 years.*  This growth will bring change, including smaller household sizes, shifting transportation and employment modes, and smaller and more diverse housing types desired and needed.

In 2012 the Eugene city council endorsed Envision Eugene’s recommendations, which include a city vision and “strategies for how Eugene will grow that is firmly based on the values, hopes, and needs of the community.” 1000 Friends is proud to have been involved in this public conversation and decision making process. We are also proud to continue our work fighting on behalf of Eugene’s citizens to fully implement the community vision.

The seven pillars of Envision Eugene offer a roadmap of shared community values that rest at the center of future planning. These are:

  • Economic opportunities for all
  • Housing affordable to all incomes
  • A plan for climate change and energy resiliency
  • Compact urban development with efficient transportation options
  • Protect, repair, and enhance neighborhood livability
  • Protect, restore, and enhance natural resources
  • Adaptable, flexible, and collaborative implementation of plans

This vision, these values, are worth fighting for. They are the building blocks that direct how the city will develop in the future. This vision is how city planners came to their preliminary draft of Envision Eugene: Vision to Action. This is a strategic framework by which the city can monitor growth and make decisions for the future. The Vision to Action document is still under review and may require rewriting pending the outcome of the South Willamette Special Area Zone Council motion.

As you can see in the Envision Eugene timeline (below), we are currently at the intersection of final analysis and recommendations, and the formal adoption process. This is where the South Willamette Special Area Zone comes in. Following a 2-year concept planning period, which unfortunately did not effectively engage the community, a draft South Willamette Concept Plan was created. City planners then created a proposed design code for the section of South Willamette that will be the Special Area Zone. The design code was developed to match the concept plan goals for this area. The proposed design code includes rezoning areas of South Willamette to accommodate more types of housing focused along transit corridors. While the general goals reflect a critical need for many in the community who rely on public transportation to get to and from work, school, and amenities, the proposed design did not adequately incorporate the concerns of current residents.

The proposed design code included rezoning options that would eventually accommodate housing such as row houses, condos, cluster cottages, and other forms of attached housing. It altered the maximum height requirements in some areas as well, increasing it in a few places, and decreasing it in others. It converted office zones to mixed-use, and upzoned some R-1 residential properties for future needs. All these code changes were theoretically made to reflect a more compact, walkable community. However, we find that the proposed design does not support a practical change, and fails to address many underlying needs in the neighborhood.

The proposed design code would downzone commercial property along Willamette that holds the greatest promise for redevelopment, while failing to guarantee key improvements like underground power lines, wide sidewalks, bike lanes, and street trees, along with the temporary property tax exemptions that create financial feasibility.  Until those things are done, nothing much will happen.

Additionally, the proposal would upzone several blocks of single-family homes that, while inexpensive, are not teardowns and so would likely fail to redevelop, despite the zone change.  Including those areas created unnecessary fear and panic in the neighborhood.

We support the goals of the concept plan, including:

  • Supporting a well-connected, healthy, and walkable district.
  • Creating opportunities for more commercial jobs and homes, including a greater diversity of housing types.
  • Setting standards for the physical form and scale of future development.
  • Setting standards for active, successful streets and public realm.
  • Realizing principles for compatible building design and transitions.

We need to make sure that these goals are accurately reflected in a final design code.

It is important to note that the South Willamette Concept Plan and Design Code are DRAFT proposals, which were pending review and discussion by the community, planning commission, and city council. This plan was drafted following the Council’s recommendations for managed growth planning. The South Willamette Special Area Zone will act as a pilot for 15 total areas identified for zone changes.

Throughout this process, city planners met the threshold for Citizen Involvement (Goal 1), but additional community engagement was and is needed. We believe the plan is flawed in execution because it did not adequately seek out and incorporate local feedback in earlier stages of development. Some current local residents were surprised to find that parts of their neighborhood were recommended for upzoning.  They were alarmed, even though this does not in any practicality change their property, other than to create more flexible options for future needs. These neighbors rallied and made their demands to the city council. Their proposed motion to the city council was moved by Councilor Mike Clark, and passed 5-3.

The October 21 motion placed new standards for future planning, which will restrict diverse and needed housing options in many of the city’s residential transit corridors. The motion reads:

  1. Reschedule the public hearing on the South Willamette Special Area Zone to January 19, 2016.
  2. Engage the effected neighbors and property owners and bring back revised zoning and plan amendments for public hearing on January 19th that will accomplish the following:
    1. Does not change the plan designation or rezone any property currently zoned R-1 or immediately adjacent to a property zoned R-1, unless none of the adjacent properties have an existing single family home or duplex and the owner agrees to the rezoning.
    2. Ensures that use and development standards for all properties that are not zoned R-1 will protect R-1 property residents’ livability, including:
      1. Protecting residents’ visual privacy in their homes and backyards, especially from significant intrusion from occupants of structures that are two or more stories; and
      2. Protecting residents’ from significant negative impacts from structures that block solar access or reasonable sight lines; and
      3. Protecting residents’ from significant negative impacts arising from vehicle use and loading.
  3. Follow the direction above with respect to all future planning and proposals for the new comprehensive plan, code and plan amendments on (previously identified by staff) transit corridors that may impact R-1 properties.

Some concepts in the October 21 motion, if implemented, would violate state law. In addition, it is contrary to Envision Eugene's fundamental assumptions to include housing options for all, and could make the city's climate goals impossible to achieve.  The motion also discriminates against  persons living in different housing types and may conflict with the city's fair and affordable housing policies. 1000 Friends rallied allies, consulted with thought leaders and community members, and directed clear communications to the Council.

While our first attempt was not successful, we are pleased to report that on November 9th, the council voted to suspend the October motion and create a process to facilitate conversations between a wider group of interested parties. This is a fantastic opportunity for Eugene citizens to come together and find a new path forward!

We plan to continue our work dispelling negative perceptions of those who live in apartments, duplexes, townhomes, and attached single family housing. We will provide accurate information to decision makers and community members, and bring thoughtful dialogue to the table, all of which can help remedy communication errors and put the plan back on the right track. It is possible to plan for greater housing accommodations within urban cores, without neighborhood degradation. It's important for city codes to allow for the flexibility needed to address this balance.

We encourage you to add your voice to the conversation.  

You can email the council at MayorCouncilandCityManager@ci.eugene.or.us

Thank them for their decision to suspend the October 21 motion and set up a facilitated discussion on the city's land use challenges.  

Tell them that affordable and diverse housing, climate change mitigation, transit, bike/pedestrian access, and an open community that welcomes new neighbors are values you share.  

Ask them how you, as a concerned citizen, can most effectively participate in shaping Eugene’s future as the council works through these issues.

1000 Friends Position:

1000 Friends of Oregon advocates for plans that consider the needs of diverse incomes; plans that connect people to efficient transportation so they can get to and from work, school, shopping, and other needed amenities; plans that allow for walkability; plans that allow communities to thrive as they grow. Stifling the opportunity to provide these types of livable communities around places like transit corridors means that Eugene may likely have to look beyond the outskirts of their community to accommodate its population growth, thus creating sprawl, adding congestion, and separating people from daily resources and community involvement.

Specific issues 1000 Friends has with the October 21 motion include the following items:

  1. “Protecting residents’ visual privacy in their homes and backyards, especially from significant intrusion from occupants of structures that are two or more stories”

This language actually calls out the human beings themselves ("the occupants") as the problem, not the structures.  It carries an implicit value judgment that being seen by a person living on the second or third floor of an apartment is worse than being seen by a person on the second or third floor of a single-family home.  Whether conscious or not on the part of those who wrote and voted for this motion, such judgments indicate bias.

45% of Eugenians do not live in single-family homes, and more than half are renters. These people are fully equal members of the community, yet this motion treats them as undesirables, a negative presence that the residents of R-1 property require protection from.

  1. “Follow the direction above with respect to all future planning and proposals for the new comprehensive plan, code and plan amendments on (previously identified by staff) transit corridors that may impact R-1 properties.”

Because the South Willamette Special Area Zone is a pilot for other projects, this part of the motion puts many other districts around the city at a disadvantage when planning compact community development that provides close-in access to jobs, school, amenities, and transportation flexibility. This part of the motion puts future plans at risk of being out of compliance with state law. Additionally, by restricting how rezoning can be applied, its natural consequence will be building at the edge of the community.

1000 Friends has conducted intensive studies, as have many others, which tell us that sprawl is not the answer for long-term viability of communities. Sprawl increases greenhouse gas emissions from the additional car driving. Sprawl costs communities more in the long-run, with rising tax burdens to support new infrastructure. By restricting R-1 rezoning in “all future planning,” there are few alternate places to incorporate compact options with diverse housing to meet the needs of all community members.

What would 1000 Friends like to see moving forward?

  1. Respect those who live in smaller and attached housing as equal members of the community. Now that the council has opened up these plans for further conversation, it is important to provide room for everyone’s voice at the table. With 45% of Eugene citizens living in non-single family style housing, their needs must be considered for the future too.  
  2. Treat everyone fairly when making land use decisions. When a land use decision is up for public hearing, the council should not determine its outcome prior to that hearing.  At the Planning Commission hearing on the SW-SAZ, many people testified in support of the South Willamette Plan. Many more supporters planned on coming to the scheduled council hearing. The council will not know what could be revealed at a public hearing, which may change the conversation. The October 21 motion leaves the impression that behind-the-scenes lobbying can cause prejudicial action to be taken prior to the planned public hearing. That is unfair and not in the best interest of the public.
  3. Consider investments made based on prior policy directives. City staff, dozens of organizations, and hundreds of citizens, have collectively spent tens of thousands of hours working in good faith on Envision Eugene, the Transportation System Plan update, and the Climate Recovery Ordinance - all worthy plans. These investments of money and time should be thoroughly discussed and carefully considered before taking an action that undermines or negates this prior work.
  4. Follow proper public process when changing past decisions.  The council has the prerogative to revise its past policy directives, even major ones such as Envision Eugene and the CRO.  However, before considering such actions, notice and opportunity for public input should be provided. Staff should also be consulted for a legal opinion and an accounting of potential impacts and possible unintended consequences. The greater the impact on the community, the more notice and public involvement opportunity should be provided. 

 

 

*Source: Portland State University Population Forecast