Editorial: Bend Is Moving Too Fast On Code Changes For Housing Standards

By: Karon Johnson

Bend proposes the adoption of a new development code which will radically affect the livability of our neighborhoods.  The process which Bend employed, however, ensured that the public will have no meaningful say in this decision.

State Planning Goal # 1 mandates “the opportunity for all citizens to be involved in all phases of the planning process.”  Every Oregon city is rewriting its development code in response to changes in land use planning required by House Bill 2001.  Large cities such as Eugene and Beaverton have involved their citizens in every step, soliciting their opinions as their codes are being written.  In contrast, Bend delegated staff to write the code, with the advice of some 15 “stakeholders”, the majority of whom were connected to development.  On May 14, 2021, the city released a 107-page draft of the new standards.  Only now does the city invite your comments.  

You will find this difficult because you didn’t help write the code or participate in the discussions concerning each section.  The draft is no help because it fails to explain why these code changes were made, what studies and data support them, their practical effect on neighborhoods and whether alternatives exist. 

HB 2001 requires that multifamily housing (duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, townhomes and cottages) be allowed in residential zone.  To prevent cities from trying to avoid the new law, the Oregon Administrative Rules (OARs) provide that a city cannot impose stricter housing standards than already exist for single-family detached housing. 

Each city can employ three processes to revise their codes:  1) adopt the State’s model code; 2) adopt the minimum standards in OAR 660-046-0200; and/or 3) write alternative standards tailored to its unique needs.  With the exception of minimum lot size and maximum density, OAR 660-046-0235 allows a city to adopt alternative standards if it can demonstrate that these standards will not cause unreasonable cost and delay.  All revised codes are due by June 30, 2022.

The Legislature knew that public engagement costs money, especially if a city wants to justify alternative development and siting standards.  The Legislature authorized $1 Million to assist cities in revising their codes. Eugene asked for $145,000; Bend asked for $14,105.

Eugene formed the “2020 Eugene Review Panel on Housing” to help write its code.  This panel, the Eugene city council and the Eugene planning commission held over 54 public meetings, giving every resident the opportunity to discuss how the new code will affect them, its effect on middle-income housing, how other cities approached the problem and whether alternatives exist.  If so, were they successful?

In contrast, Bend staff and the advisory group held eleven meetings between September 16, 2020 and April 28, 2021, each two hours long.  The times and dates of these meetings were published and the public was able to watch them live.

Here’s the catch:  the meetings were videotaped but they were not transcribed; no minutes were kept.  And the videos were not published until May 25, 2021.  Until then, anyone who missed an actual live meeting was left in the dark.  

This state of affairs continues because the draft lacks any appendix explaining why these codes should be adopted.  This means that before you attempt an intelligent comment on the draft, you will first have to watch 22 hours of videos.

This process has worked an injustice on Bend’s citizens.  It is ludicrous to expect them to make intelligent comments on this 107-page, highly technical document when it’s served up to them cold.  The City Council needs to make this right:  1) stop its rush to get this code passed by August; and 2) convene meetings to allow the public to discuss this code section by section.

Time is not an impediment: Bend’s code is not due until June 30, 2022.

For more information, go to OurBendHousingCode.com.

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