Heated Hearings for Bend 170-Unit Apartment Plan

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(Photo: View from Colorado Bridge | Rendering courtesy of Milbrandt Architects/Evergreen Housing Development Group)

Crowd Overflows City Chambers, with River Impact Among Concerns

In what has become something of a lightning rod issue for increasing urban-style vertical development in Bend, over 100 people crowded City Hall for an often-contentious public hearing on a Seattle-based developer’s plans for a 170-unit apartment building spanning four stories close to the Deschutes River.

Most community members who provided testimony on the application expressed opposition to the proposed 168,000 sq. ft complex slated for a 2.9-acre hillside site on Shevlin Hixon Drive, to the west of the Colorado Avenue bridge and Whitewater Park.

Concerns ranged from on-site parking adequacy questions, to anticipated increased congestion on already strained intersections, and the relative scale of the project, which would be the largest in the immediate area and potentially produce a shadow effect impacting the nearby McKay Park, which has become especially popular among river floating enthusiasts.

Due to the overwhelming turnout, Hearings Officer Will Van Vactor, who is a specialist land use and real estate attorney, moved to open up a second hearing which was staged within days, as a continuation of the first forum which lasted some five hours at City Council offices on Wall Street — such was the volume of people wanting to voice their opinions on this hot-button topic.

The hearing related to Evergreen Housing Development Group’s site plan and design review application for a multi-family building with 187 parking spaces in the Mixed-Use Riverfront (MR) zone.

At almost three acres, the as-yet undeveloped subject parcel is the largest in the MR zoning district, which includes 461 tax lots covering 274 acres on either side of the Deschutes River.

The proposed project also includes a Class C Variance to exceed the 45-foot building height of the MR Zone by five feet, due to a portion of the roof line exceeding that limit, though Evergreen representatives said the actual living space was within that level and the protrusions were effectively architectural features, with the variance only sought in the spirit of proceeding “with an abundance of caution”.

A staff report helmed by City of Bend Senior Planner Brian Harrington has recommended approval of the submitted plan and requested variance as meeting applicable zone criteria, subject to a number of conditions including the need for a five-foot sidewalk connecting to that along the Colorado avenue right of way, and a contribution of $56,000 toward “alternative mitigation” for the Simpson/Columbia intersection

The MR Zone is intended to implement the City’s Comprehensive Plan policies for the “creative redevelopment of mill site properties adjacent to the Deschutes River” aiming to:

  • Provide a variety of employment opportunities and housing types;
  • Foster pedestrian and other non-motor vehicle activity;
  • Ensure functionally coordinated, aesthetically pleasing and cohesive site planning and design;
  • Ensure compatibility of mixed-use development with the surrounding area and minimize off-site impacts associated with the development; and
  • Encourage access to, and enjoyment of, the Deschutes River.

The neighborhood mix close to the site includes recreational uses to the east (McKay Park/Bend Whitewater Park and the Pavilion to the southwest), and a mix of office buildings to the north and south. The properties to the north and east are zoned MR and the properties to the south and southwest are zoned Mixed-Use Urban (MU).

Building height calculation methods for the planned development included taking three points on each façade from finished grade to the highest point on the building or structure, then averaging the façade values for an overall building height figure.

Some of those appearing at the hearing in support of the application cited the growing City’s need for more housing options and the proximity to amenities resulting in a reduced need to drive as plusses. Bend Parks and Recreation District (BPRD) noted that due to the adjacent orientation of their parking lot for the Pavilion, the proposed building’s tenants should not use that lot for parking.

Following a pre-application Neighborhood Meeting held last Spring, the City received a number of phone calls and letters including concerns about adequate parking, traffic impact, effect on livability, the size and height of the building on a bluff overlooking the river being “incongruous with the existing neighborhood” and that allowing a height variance would create a precedent for future development in proximity to the river.

A letter from land use attorney Liz Fancher on behalf of William Smith Properties stated: “The five-story building will have a negative visual impact exacerbated by the unattractive design and its prominent location on a bluff above the Deschutes River.

“The project exceeds the density allowed in any residential zone and provides an inadequate amount of parking in an area where parking is at a premium.”

Letters in support included neighbors in favor of projects providing more housing options in locations not reliant on private car transportation and enhancing the area by supporting more businesses. Bend Affordable Housing Committee also backed the project as aligning with the long-term goals of the City to promote lower automobile usage and “provide appropriate density that will stimulate neighborhood scale retail and commercial development”.

Evergreen Land Entitlement Director Hans Christiansen said the subject parcel was within the “Shevlin Riverfront Masterplan” and partly due to its relative size, was originally planned for a hotel/mixed use development but the site designation was subsequently modified to revert to the general MR zone criteria.

He added: “This is not materially different from that originally proposed in terms of development on that size lot and we believe we have met all appropriate criteria.

“We believe we have gone over and above the design guidelines of the City and applicable Shevlin Center Architectural Review Committee and regarding the height height variance have implemented a number of architectural features to mitigate any impact.

“We concur with the requirements such as a pedestrian walkway, and our rendering shows how the building fits into the landscape as a pedestrian scale development.”

Staff findings noted that the proposed building incorporated extensions and offset, balconies and decks, and changes in the roofline with a variety of colors, materials and colors. The design also steps the building down the slope from west to east and incorporates a U-shape to help break up the mass of the building.

Data from Evergreen’s traffic consultant studies showed the project was within applicable boundaries and anticipated to generate an additional 18 trips per hour, though with the acknowledgement that improvements would likely be necessary at certain Colorado intersections.

Kirk Schueler, President of land owner Brooks Resources, said the parcel was originally designated for a hotel when it was part of one of the first mixed-use masterplans in Bend.

He said: “This parcel, known as Lot 13, is the largest in the Shevlin Riverfront Masterplan District, some ten times larger than average, and we had hoped for a hotel with around 120 rooms and an 8,000 sq ft restaurant.

“But following changes associated with growth, in 2009 the masterplan was amended, and it reverted to the overall MR zone guidelines regarding any permitted use.

“As far as scale goes, the project creates more of a frontage on the street to increase aesthetic appeal, and the proposed building is relatively consistent with nearby larger development, including the Deschutes Brewery plant and the Point office/medical building on Colorado Avenue.”

The proposal has seen picketing by protestors recently near the Colorado & Simpson roundabout.

Opponents who spoke at the public hearing included Linda May, who said: “I am concerned about our area and what is happening.

“The community passed a major Bond in 2012 to build the Whitewater Park and Pavilion. If we knew large apartments could be built nearby in an area now dedicated primarily to recreation, I think we would have been unlikely to support such an initiative.

“Things are already congested for occupants of that area and from the Colorado Bridge the first thing that visitors are going to see would be this structure if approved as proposed.

May also quoted an article previously written by former CBN publisher the late Pamela Hulse-Andrews as expressing a love of Bend’s unique attributes but presciently advocating for keeping building heights lower by the river to maintain the area’s famed attractiveness and quality of life.

She added: “Allowing a height variance would create a precedent for future riverfront projects which would diminish Bend’s number one resource – the Deschutes River.”

Larry Crawford observed that the area included a lot of narrow streets in area and claimed the project “would create more problems than it would solve”. Access point Bradbury Way could also be frequently icy due to being more shaded in winter conditions.

John Eakin said: “I am a resident on that river corridor and have noticed an increased influx of traffic due to the Pavilion. The roads are not equipped to handle such additional traffic and the Simpson and Colorado intersections are already strained.

“Also, height restrictions matter — we can’t let this one slip and create a potential precedent for similar future development.”

Bend Paddle Trail Alliance President Justin Rae said: “We were part of the fundraising effort that was part of a community push regarding recreational amenities. There has been a dramatic shift in that area and the whole foundation has changed.

“This process abides by the Bend Citizen Involvement Program, and I would encourage concerned community members to get involved and go to the relevant land use/planning commission authorities to help modify the code or masterplan as necessary. This is becoming big pinch point and involves structural issues.”

Oregon’s statewide planning program calls for the state, and each city and county, to develop and maintain a “citizen involvement program that insures the opportunity for citizens to be involved in all phases of the planning process.”

On behalf of William Smith Properties, Parametrix Oregon Survey Supervisor Andrew Huston questioned the methodology of the applicant’s height calculations, observing that retaining walls added to effective structure heights in places, and said the building would appear over 70 ft tall from the Shevlin Hixon Drive orientation.

He also produced a video that dramatically illustrated the potential shadow effect produced by the structure, particularly as it relates to nearby properties, including the beach area of McKay Park. He added that the building in its currently proposed form would mean an office across the street “would not see daylight”.

Retired planner Cheryl Dix, who lives nearby, said:  We can’t allow our area’s natural beauty to be spoiled.

“This goes beyond ‘NIMBY-ism — it is a river issue and in reality, the parking is also inadequate, and I don’t believe this project follows the original masterplan regarding the true intent of MR Zone.

Some attendees also voiced concern that the original hearing could not accommodate all who wanted to speak, with people overflowing out into hallways and sitting on stairways or cross-legged in the hall craning to see a video feed. Many had to leave to return to work or for parking time limit requirements for the hearing, which started at 11am and lasted over five hours.

And, the stage may be set for more debate over the direction of the greater west side and Old Mill area in the future, with multi-story mixed-use development set to alter Bend’s skyline and transform an area including once-thriving sawmills into a new urban epicenter, spawned by a creative adjustment to the city’s development code.

The relatively new Mixed-Use Urban (MU) zone in an area between downtown and the Old Mill District will allow buildings up to 65 feet tall and six floors, designed to accommodate commercial uses on the ground level and residential above.

Already local property owners are gearing up for a re-development push, catalyzed by the streamlining of the planning code, including the owners of the former Ray’s grocery store – a structure which collapsed during the heavy snowfall of two winters ago – looking to rezone the property in conformance with the MU designation and create some 200 apartments over ground floor retail.

Similarly, buildings at the one-time particleboard milling giant KorPine site off Industrial Way which also crumbled under heavy snow and have now been fully demolished, and which sit in the new MU overlay zone, could pave the way for creative multi-level development in that area, with owners affiliated with Hooker Creek looking at potential development scenarios.
And the Washington-based owners of the Box Factory complex between Arizona and Industrial Way, Killian Pacific, are working through plans for five acres they own close by which will act as an extension to that successful local cluster of businesses — with the possibility of a mixed-use building with retail and other commercial services on the ground level and several stories of apartment units above.

The new MU code was triggered in part through a desire to extend the Mixed-Use District concept of providing a balanced mix of residential and employment opportunities to create focal points of activity in the form of “nodes” or corridors designed to support service commercial, employment and housing needs of a growing community.
As the area’s population continues to rise at a fast clip, several initiatives have been steered to try to keep pace with demand, including the expansion of Bend’s Urban Growth Boundary.

The MU Zone long-range plan is also geared toward more transportation options and encouraging pedestrian-friendly scenarios, and a City spokesman added, “The Mixed-Use Urban Zone is intended to provide opportunities for vibrant mixed-use centers and districts in areas with high-quality connectivity to and within the area.

“It is intended to allow for a denser level of development of a variety of commercial and residential uses than in surrounding areas with an emphasis on retail and entertainment uses at the street level. “It is intended to provide for development that is supportive of transit by encouraging a pedestrian-friendly environment.”
Jeremy McPherson, vice president of development for Killian Pacific, who now heads a dedicated Bend office for the company, added previously: “We see so much opportunity in Central Oregon. “We know that as part of developing in these communities, we must know the people, the neighborhoods and the landscape in order to make the best decisions for our projects.
“It’s our responsibility to ensure we align with what makes Central Oregon such a popular place for residents and tourists to the area.”

To review details regarding the Shevlin Apartments application, go to City of Bend ePlans and type PZ-18-0429 and PZ-18-0430 into the search box.

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Simon Mather CBN Feature Writer

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