June 12, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Neighborhood planning looks to break down silos

9 min read
Neighborhood planning will move beyond land use plans to include multiple city departments and neighborhood capacity-building. A pilot project in the Bethel and University neighborhoods will start in November.

The Eugene City Council gets its first look at a new approach, as neighborhood planning moves out of the Planning Division to the Office of Equity and Community Engagement.

Councilor Alan Zelenka: I’m really excited about this new approach.

Councilor Lyndsie Leech: I’m really excited about the possibility of this.

Councilor Jennifer Yeh: I’m very impressed with this.

Councilor Randy Groves: I too am excited to see where this goes.

Councilor Emily Semple: I think this is a great idea.

Councilor Greg Evans: I appreciate the fact that you’re looking to break down silos between departments.

[00:00:25] John Q: City councilors look forward to a reset after the failure of multi-year efforts in South Willamette and River Road/Santa Clara.

[00:00:35] Alissa Hansen (City planning director): My name is Alissa Hansen. I’m going to provide you some background and context on neighborhood planning.

[00:00:41] The city has a long history of working with community members to create and adopt land use plans that address conditions and issues unique to specific areas. Historically, these have been efforts that have been led by the Planning Division, and they have resulted in adopted land use plans, like land use policy documents.

[00:01:03] The current effort is happening (and has been happening) in the River Road, Santa Clara neighborhoods. This effort started in 2017 and is anticipated to wrap up in 2024. And I think, as we all know, next in the queue are the University and Bethel areas.

[00:01:21] John Q: In response to the growing homelessness crisis, the state has imposed top-down planning.

[00:01:27] Alissa Hansen (City planning director): Some recent changes in state law have really required us to approach our planning and our work plan differently, you know, allowing for accessory dwellings, middle housing, updating clear and objective and needed housing provisions, the parking reform code amendments, and also there is a whole host of previous and ongoing work on housing planning and production at the state level. And these can limit how certain issues are addressed.

[00:01:58] And I can give you one example: In River Road / Santa Clara during some of their visioning, they had talked about where exactly they wanted to have middle housing. They also talked about potentially requiring more parking along the corridor through state law. They are not able to accomplish either of those specific changes.

[00:02:19] The next major factor, and this is actually a really, really positive thing, is that we now have Eugene-specific plans. We have the Envision Eugene Comprehensive Plan and the Eugene 2035 Transportation System Plan, both of which were adopted in 2017. And this gives us an opportunity to actually have local policies that previously did not exist.

[00:02:43] And then finally, resource constraints are also an issue not just in terms of there’s a lot of work on our plates, there’s citywide conversations about revenue and finances and those have an impact on this work as well.

[00:02:57] Councilors expressed a desire to move forward with neighborhood planning efforts for both the University and the Bethel areas simultaneously. So, how can we move forward with both neighborhoods and pilot something in those?

[00:03:13] What we did is pull together a staff team to talk about: ‘How can we do a new approach and what does that look like?’ And I think some people might think of approach being the process, but in this case, it’s really also looking at a different outcome, and we don’t anticipate the outcome of these to be adopted land use plans. Rather, they’re going to be more action-oriented. They’re going to be looking at benefits and amenities that those areas are prioritizing.

[00:03:39] And I will just end with: I think there’s really a lot to be excited about.

[00:03:42] Fabio is going to share the approach that we’re proposing.

[00:03:47] Fabio Andrade (OECE manager): Fabio Andrade with the Office of Equity and Community Engagement. And based on what we just heard from Alissa, we do need a new approach for neighborhood planning if we want to produce plans that are actionable and that considers the current context in terms of legal requirements and the resources we have available.

[00:04:05] The approach we are proposing is comprehensive. We want to make sure that we have staff from all city departments, so OECE (the Office of Equity and Community Engagement) will be the coordinating unit. But we are going to have staff from all departments participating. And we’ll be getting technical advice from all of them.

[00:04:25] We also hope to get strong participation from residents and neighborhood associations. We want to partner with the school districts, nonprofits, the business community, and throughout the process, we want to identify new stakeholders, groups that we can bring into the conversation and make it inclusive of their participation interests.

[00:04:44] John Q: Fabio said this can align neighborhoods with the city’s strategic plan.

[00:04:49] Fabio Andrade (OECE): We can also use this process to promote better community engagement… to increase capacity of residents to get together and address issues on their own initiative, for example, increasing the capacity of neighborhood associations, promoting more diverse participation in those groups, for example.

[00:05:08] Let me walk you through a visual representation of what this new approach would look like. So let’s take the Bethel area, for example.

[00:05:16] Any neighborhood planning process, it starts with us listening to the community. We want to understand: What is their vision? What are the needs and priorities for the community?

[00:05:26] Then we want to take that information and examine everything the city has produced, existing plans and current processes. We can then take that information back to the community and have a conversation: How are we addressing your needs in the existing plans and in the current planning processes? We may find that many needs are being addressed, but some are not.

[00:05:50] So that information comes back as feedback that we can use to update the plans. The resulting process would be a neighborhood plan that is a conversation between what the community needs and what we are doing.

[00:06:05] So this has some additional benefits for the community. We can help people understand the process a little bit better. We can make it easier for residents to see how their needs are being addressed. And we can produce neighborhood plans that are connected to everything else that the city is doing.

[00:06:23] Because we’re not doing land use planning, the processes can be simplified. And we are trying to leverage all resources we have at our disposal. So we have some capacity-building funds. We have some staff capacity that we are pulling from different departments.

[00:06:38] And our office will take the lead in coordinating with associations, residents, and other stakeholders, which is something we already do through the neighborhood association program. So we just redirect some of the work we do in our office to have more capacity to support the process.

[00:06:56] Councilor Lyndsie Leech: My question is that I see a lot of engagement. Where does business engagement fit in that? And can we kind of use this opportunity to improve the business engagement? One thing we’ve learned on the River Road / Santa Clara plan is we’re getting a lot of feedback right now on how businesses are potentially impacted by the new codes being proposed. So some feedback that I received was, ‘Hey, can we better include the businesses in that community engagement piece?’

[00:07:25] And then secondly: What are the potential tools for implementation? Another piece of feedback that I have been getting is that the plan feels like it doesn’t have, kind of, ‘teeth’ for enforcement. There’s a lot of use of words like ‘we encourage,’ or ‘we strive for.’ How do we make sure that the items in the plan actually can get implemented?

[00:07:50] Fabio Andrade (OECE): I’ll first respond to the question about engaging the business community. We did note that in the strategic plan, supporting the business environment is one of the strategic goals that should be addressed in neighborhood planning.

[00:08:02] In our first stage of the planning process, we have stakeholder mapping, and that’s when we’re going to identify what is the best people, the best organization, and the best approach to engage with the business community and then design an engagement plan with their participation.

[00:08:19] We close our slides with ‘Planning with instead of planning for,‘ so we definitely know that we need to do that kind of engagement. The ‘how’ is still yet to be determined.

[00:08:31] So we hope to identify through this process everything else that has already been addressed in other plans, for example, our land use plan or our park systems improvement or MOVE EUG (transportation planning) and everything else that has been designed with community engagement.

[00:08:49] So we expect that many of the needs have already been expressed in those plans, and those have more enforcement power. In addition, if we identify something that is not yet over in those plans, they become a recommendation.

[00:09:04] The resulting document is much easier for people to understand how the city is working to support whatever they need in the place where they live… If the plan is easier for people to understand, we can expect that more people will refer to that plan when they engage in conversations with their representatives and with city staff.

[00:09:23] Councilor Lyndsie Leech: Great. And what happens when what comes out of the community engagement is a need for some types of land use adjustments in the code? Will that also arise, or do you foresee it arising?

[00:09:38] Alissa Hansen (City planning director): That’s a great question… I could foresee that happening. It’s just that the entire focus of the plan is not about zoning and land use, but it could be that in a specific neighborhood that there is a tweak that’s needed. But I think we’d also think: Is this something we need citywide, or is this something specific to that neighborhood as well? And this gives us an opportunity to look at that.

[00:10:01] Councilor Jennifer Yeh: I think you’re right that probably people had goals that just didn’t fit into land use and they were trying to solve them all in this one place, but that wasn’t the tool that they needed to use. So I’m also very enthusiastic about this. And I think if the pilot goes well, we could see it working great in other parts. I would love it to come up to my neighborhood when it’s their turn. So thank you so much.

[00:10:27] Councilor Emily Semple: As I had said with the South Willamette (plan), I was hoping after that didn’t work, that the Santa Clara plan would give us a good template of how to do neighborhood planning. But with the changes that you’ve mentioned, that’s really not the best model for how things have changed. So I’m looking forward to seeing how this evolves and any stumbling blocks to be worked through. But it’s a great start.

[00:10:57] Councilor Greg Evans: One of the things I would like to mention or underline is that Bethel has a unique situation in that we have our own school district. So, I’m really interested to know how staff is planning to be inclusive of the school district and the stakeholders that are in the area, the parents, as well as the teachers and administrators for the Bethel School District.

[00:11:26] Fabio Andrade (OECE manager): In our comprehensive process slide, we did include the school district as a partner, because we do understand, especially in the Bethel case, that we need a stronger partnership with the school district because many of the needs that residents have, they can be supported through school facilities.

[00:11:45] For example: space for sports and playgrounds for kids and other programs that the school district offers. So we will seek strong collaboration with the school district.

[00:11:57] Councilor Alan Zelenka: I think a more focused, nimble process, with a cross-departmental project team will get us to tailored solutions that will work better. And whether they be land use, whether they be ordinance changes, whether they need programmatic or whatever the solution out of the toolkit, if this allows us to actually accomplish some of the things that neighbors, neighborhoods wants us to do, which is address these issues in a more focused and specific way, I think this is going to be a much better way to handle neighborhood planning. And those folks that think that the be-end-all of neighborhood planning is land use, there’s a lot more to it than that.

[00:12:40] A lot of the stuff that can be done is outside of that realm and should be. We can still do land use if we need to, but I think that’s hard to do, cumbersome and has a lot of process around it.

[00:12:51] And if we can do it faster and get there in a different way, I think that’s worth the shot.

[00:12:58] John Q: The end of an era in neighborhood planning, as the baton is passed from the Planning Division to the Office of Equity and Community Engagement. The Neighborhood Leaders Council is expected to discuss the new approach Oct. 24.

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