We’ve all seen it, the urban sprawl of a community building housing deeper into farmlands and forests.
But that’s not the plan for the city of Eugene and its urban growth boundary, or UGB.
While some things have yet to be decided, some aspects of the UBG already are determined.
The UGB will not be expanded for housing, says Eric Brown, assistant planner. Instead, the expansion will include parks, schools and industrial uses – meaning, the development of jobs.
New housing within the UGB over the next 20 years will need to be high-density housing — apartments and multiplexes that fit more people into the same land space of what might previously have been the site of a single-family home.
Brown says he attended an Envision Eugene drop-in planning session recently and spoke to a senior woman who lives downtown and walks everywhere with the aid of a walker. He said she strongly supports more downtown housing.
Brown acknowledges that there is currently not a lot of housing in downtown Eugene.
“That’s something that both the planning team and the community development team want,” he says. “One of the programs is MUPTE. It’s pretty controversial in the community but it’s one of the ways we can support downtown housing.”
Multi-Unit Property Tax Exemption, or MUPTE, was approved by Eugene’s City Council on July 13, 2015. MUPTE (pronounced MUP-tea) allows for a 10-year tax-exempt status for multi-unit housing projects in Eugene’s core areas.
So far, 28 MUPTE-qualified housing projects have been built in Eugene. Projects designed especially for students do not qualify for MUPTE. People don’t like the idea of giving tax breaks to big development firms, so there is some concern about how this legislation will affect the city’s coffers.
The city is increasing flexibility for SDUs, or secondary dwelling units, which might include “granny flats,” apartments above a garage, a basement suite or a tiny house in the backyard of an existing home.
There are no plans to radically change the permitting processes to admit these types of structures across the board, but the city is looking into how it can allow more of them.
Brown says there was an attempt two or three years ago within the city permitting process to increase the allowances for these types of dwellings, but unfortunately, that resulted in more restrictions.
“That’s just how that conversation went,” he says, “so I think we’ll be re-opening that.”
One of the ways the planning department is maintaining the current UGB for housing is by changing the minimum density in its R-2 medium density residential zone. They’re bumping up the minimum density for new construction in that zone from 10 to 14 units per acre.
“We’re not restricting the types of housing that could go in there, but it could result in smaller homes on smaller lots,” Brown says. “We heard from the community and, in particular from older folks, that they are interested in a smaller home to maintain, a smaller yard to maintain and a less costly place to live.”
The senior woman who spoke with Brown at the meeting, he says, was “bright and positive and full of life.” He doesn’t remember her name, but does remember that she had given up her vehicle and gets to most of her appointments by walking and using ride services. “She came to the meeting to let us know how valuable it was to her to live in downtown Eugene and she wanted other folks to have that opportunity,” Brown recalls.
Eugene is 10 years into this UGB planning process now. In 2017, Brown and other planners are hoping to adopt its partial UGB plan based on the present findings. “We’re ad-opting the elements of our plan to adopt the UGB and there are other parts that will be a phase two,” he explains. “We’re on track to adopt our UGB by the summer of 2017 if all goes to plan and, so far, it looks like it will.”
A key part of Envision Eugene is to increase density along Eugene’s key corridors: South Willamette Street, West 11th Avenue, Highway 99, River Road, Coburg Road and Franklin Boulevard.
“If we’re able to implement the vision we’d see more density along those key corridors with more multi-family housing and more townhomes along those corridors and more people living within a 20-minute walk of shops and services,” Brown says.
That 20-minute number is important, because it speaks to the needs of older generations as well as meeting a key goal of increased density.
According to the city’s website, “20-minute neighborhoods are places where residents have easy, convenient access to many of the places and services they use daily including grocery stores, restaurants, schools and parks, without relying heavily on a car. They are characterized by a vibrant mix of commercial and residential uses all within an easy walk. They have higher concentrations of people and are complete with the sidewalks, bike lanes and bus routes that support a variety of transportation options.”
Decreasing transportation costs is a sideways way of making living in a particular place more affordable.
Eugene’s planners are moving ahead with transportation projects such as expanding BRT, which is Lane Transit District’s EmX bus lines going farther and more frequently out West 7th and West 11th avenues. The West Eugene EmX project is under construction, expected to open for service in fall 2017.
LTD’s website champions the benefits of the EmX project, saying it will expand the bus service’s existing network by 60 percent, from 15 to 24 round-trip miles. The project will add 27 new customer boarding platforms allowing travel between west Eugene, downtown Eugene and Springfield, and the Gateway area in north Springfield.
Springfield has moved forward with a plan to develop its own UGB. The Springfield 2030 Plan is also bringing in the community’s vision and values to help guide the process.
On Dec. 5-6, Springfield and Lane County co-adopted ordinances to expand Springfield’s UGB, and to change some land use policies and zoning. The new Springfield UGB adds 257 acres out of 273 acres in the North Gateway and Mill Race expansion areas. It designates 53 acres of land located within the FEMA Floodway in the North Gateway expansion area as a natural resource and also expands the UGB to include 455 acres of existing public, parks and open space land. The Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development must accept these changes before they are formally adopted.
With so many things to take into consideration and so many different needs to be met by one single piece of legislation, there are bound to be different perspectives.
Brown says he hears from residents who strongly support opening up the UGB for more housing. They are concerned about how this movement toward density will impact their existing neighborhoods. Then there are others who don’t want any more industrial land uses or tax-exempt apartment complexes.
“It’s our job to hear from all people in the community — developers, senior citizens, downtown business owners, students — everybody who lives in our community,” Brown says. “We have to plan for all of them, and on balance what we’ve heard is the community doesn’t want to expand for housing but they are willing to accept limited expansion for jobs, parks and schools —non-commercial expansions. Planning for density is a complicated thing.”