((L-R) Mayor Sally Russell, City Manager Eric King and Bend Chamber CEO Katy Brooks | Photo courtesy of Bend Chamber)
Outgoing Mayor Reflects on Successes Including Housing & Transportation
Housing and transportation updates — including progress on the $190 million in bond projects approved by voters in 2020 — were two major topics touched on by outgoing Mayor Sally Russell as she presented the 2022 State of the City Address recently, hosted by Bend Chamber of Commerce.
Russell also delved into ongoing moves to create more workforce living options, strategies to address houselessness and “exciting” steps toward redevelopment work happening in the Core Area of Bend at the well-attended forum held at the Open Space Event Studios
Another highlight of the past year was the adoption of an integrated water system master plan emphasizing conservation, but a major focus continued to be on code changes and other incentives to encourage more “middle housing” development.
Chamber CEO Katy Brooks paid tribute to Russell’s near 18 years of public service in Central Oregon, including the last ten as an elected public official with Bend City Council and concurred that availability of workforce housing was a major issue, with employers facing labor shortages exacerbated in part by workers not being able to afford to live in the area.
Russell pointed to the new 96-unit Stillwater Crossing project at the southern edge of Bend as a great example of attainable housing as part of trying to promote more of a full spectrum of housing options.
During a video round-up presented by Russell, Bend Oversight Committee member Leanne O’Neill described progress on the raft of transportation projects that have been funded, starting with the first dollars being spent on the ongoing Wilson corridor improvements stretching from Ninth to 15th streets.
Other priorities included the Newport Avenue key corridor route improvements and Purcell Extension, both scheduled to be completed this year, with the Wilson work looking to be finished sometime in 2023.
Several related projects were also in the design phase, including Midtown Crossings looking to straddle Hwy 97 and the railroad tracks, Butler Market & Boyd Acres improvements, and the Reed Market corridor updates.
Reflecting on the GO Bond successes, O’Neill said, “This is delivering on what was promised to voters, through a transparent, participatory process, and as the projects roll out there will be opportunities for open houses to monitor progress.”
Russell said that the Bend Central District (BCD) — in an area roughly bounded by Revere Avenue to the North, the train tracks and Third Street underpass to the South, spanning to 4th St to the East — was a Core area that the City and community members “have been looking at redeveloping for over 25 years”.
She added, “The formation of the Tax Increment Finance District is a huge step forward and we are on the cusp of this through groundwork put in place and we are beginning to see a lot of developer interest in this effort.
“The vision for the Core area and BCD is to be the hub for employment and housing, and the City is a committed redevelopment partner in this direction.”
Kina Condit-Chadwick of the Core Area Advisory Board talked about “bridging the gap” between the current downtown and this area and how to improve connectivity and flow, with accessibility being a major factor, especially for those without a vehicle.
Russell said, “The Central Business District/Core area has unique potential for an urban style redevelopment and can become a place where people can live, work and play.
“The City has acquired the former Rainbow motel site as an opportunistic public investment as part of this effort, to meet a variety of short-term needs and long-term community needs. It could be today a shelter and tomorrow a park, community center or City Hall, and is an exciting opportunity.”
Major projects to boost regeneration efforts included the concept of a Hawthorne Bridge over Third Street and the railroad tracks to further foster connections between downtown and Juniper Park and surrounding neighborhoods that have previously been somewhat isolated.
On the housing front, Russell praised the flagship Stillwater Crossing project for widening attainable housing options, made possible in part through the Park District waiving System Development Charge fees. Over 750 new affordable units for Bend were also in the discussion phase.
Statistics showed that regarding housing development, between July 1, 2021 and May 9, 2022: 936 units were complete, with 1572 under construction, illustrating a mix of 43 percent in the multi-family category, 35 percent single family and 23 percent other.
Russell observed, “This is kind of the opposite to when I first worked on housing on the council and we are striving to create more middle housing and affordable options.
“A huge shift is taking place in our community and this is the only way we are going to be able to move forward in creating incentives and more strategies and to keep moving the needle, particularly in terms of workforce housing.”
Upcoming potential projects included around the Stevens Road Tract area brought into Urban Growth Boundary in SE Bend, which looks to create walkable communities.
A recent proposal before the council for a bordering parcel included 2487 dwelling units, in a transit-supportive environment, featuring a mix of medium to high density along a five-acre Main Street route, with parks and schools.
The plan also calls for commercial and Mixed Employment nodes, seven acres of trail corridor and one larger centrally located 29-acre community park, as part of some 39 acres of open space, which represents 15 percent of the overall site.
Regarding houselessness, over a series of public meetings and public work sessions an Emergency Houselessness Task Force was formed to create a strategic plan to quickly address the crisis in the short term. Long-term the plan aims to “disrupt the status quo that feeds homelessness” through a collaborative City/County office. Shelter code amendments are part of a move in that direction.
On the public safety front, considering the serious drought conditions in the West, Russell alluded to fire resilience and following “Own Your Zone” guidelines to reduce risk. She also referenced the opportunity for people to get phone warnings regarding emergency situations by opting into the Deschutes County Alert system (see website: deschutes.org/911).
She also encouraged voters to back an upcoming levy proposal for expanding fire services to the Pilot Butte Station to keep up with ever-growing demand.
City Manager Eric King added that a new City Hall was a key element of a multi-year process of acquiring land in the Bend Central District, as part of a master plan for the area, as they had outgrown their current facility. He expected a new base could be in place by 2025.
Wholesale improvements to Reed Market Road would be a multi-year process, starting with the widening of the roundabout at 15th Street, with the bulk of work being conducted after East-West corridor updates so detours could be in place before scheduled completion of an overpass over the rail freight line sometime between 2025 and 2026.
Feasibility studies and conceptualizations were also underway for potential bridges creating midtown crossings at Hawthorne and Greenwood Avenues.