June 12, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

City, county approve the River Road, Santa Clara ‘someday, maybe, possibly never list’

11 min read
Councilor Mike Clark was the lone dissenting vote as the city and county approved a River Road - Santa Clara planning package, despite concerns that it would harm existing businesses, fail to create walkable neighborhoods, and generate widespread parking problems.

The product of thousands of volunteer hours, superseded by state mandates on middle housing and climate change, this week received an official stamp of approval as a toothless wish list. On Monday and Tuesday, the city and county adopted the River Road and Santa Clara planning package. One Eugene city councilor offered a lone dissent. On April 22:

Councilor Mike Clark (April 22, 2024): I will vote against this…One of the reasons for my ‘No’ vote is that there is absolutely no nexus and no connection between the code amendments and the neighborhood plan. The case cannot be made that the code amendments are the embodiment of anything in the plan. That’s one of my problems with it. So it’s not to support the neighborhood plan that these were put forward. And it’s one of my chief problems with it, is: They stand alone and they’re actually contrary to the Metropolitan Plan…

[00:00:58] As I mentioned initially, and that we heard through the public hearings on these ordinances, a number of people had strong concerns, including our Planning Commission that split. I tend to come down on the side of the chair of the Planning Commission that there are issues here that would be more wisely resolved over time.

[00:01:20] John Q: He cited a new state mandate, Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities, or CFEC.

[00:01:27] Councilor Mike Clark (April 22, 2024): There are new issues coming in 2026 with CFEC that we will open all of this back up again and could do it in my estimation, the right way. And the reason it’s not the right way is because it’s my opinion that the findings for these code amendments clearly do not comport and comply and aren’t consistent with the Metro Plan.

[00:01:51] It’s been pointed out to us by numerous land use attorneys, three whose memos were very clear to me, that we’re acting actually with a couple of these code amendments definitely inconsistently with the Metro Plan, in that we are intentionally discouraging particular varieties of businesses from being supported, which is a part of what Envision Eugene says we are to do.

[00:02:19] And the height requirement, while I understand the neighbors’ desire to have it, I think we should be treating all transportation corridors as planned and similarly across our city and I think that while they hope a height restriction will produce something that they would like to see happen, I believe it will intentionally keep anything from ever being developed there that they envision and will restrict them in such a way as to see the same neighborhood with very few changes for a very long period of time.

[00:02:57] And I don’t think it’s a wise way to proceed.

[00:02:59] John Q: Councilor Clark mentioned the chair of the Planning Commission. On Dec. 5, 2023, discussing the phase-out of auto-centric businesses:

[00:03:08] Tiffany Edwards, Eugene Planning Commission, chair (Dec. 5, 2023): I was in opposition to that and I will just state again, I didn’t support eliminating any business opportunities along the corridor as well. I’ve noticed a number of other automotive-related businesses get further down on the River Road corridor. It’s a pretty major corridor. These types of businesses seem appropriate to maintain their existence in that area, or at least in part of that area. And there’s, as the map had showed further to demonstrate to me, the C-2 is only in certain corners and in certain more busier intersections, it’s not the entire length of the corridor. So my gut feeling was that I just wanted to be able to preserve the businesses opportunity that currently exists to expand or maintain a viable business if they were to sell or anything like that.

[00:03:58] John Q: The Planning Commission also discussed building height restrictions. Tiffany Edwards.

[00:04:02] Tiffany Edwards, Eugene Planning Commission, chair (Dec. 5, 2023): I felt that the 65 feet was prohibitive to building types that have become pretty common, especially if you’re wanting to incentivize and increase commercial and retail, which is what the neighborhood had said…

[00:04:16] They call this a ‘five over two,’ and they’ve got two floors of commercial with 12 feet, and then above that, the five floors of housing. It’s below 120 (feet), but it’s significantly above 65. It’s closer to about 90, is what my understanding is…

[00:04:33] I don’t want to make the wrong decision specifically because the neighborhood seems to have been wanting to see more commercial and retail activity along that corridor.

[00:04:44] John Q: As the Planning Commission prepared to vote on the adoption package, Tiffany Edwards.

[00:04:49] Tiffany Edwards, Eugene Planning Commission, chair (Dec. 5, 2023): I was in the minority on two of those things, and so I probably will not support moving forward with the entire thing, but I would imagine that the majority will prevail. So just I want to put that out there that I, based on where we landed on those things, I don’t think that it makes sense for me to support moving those particular items forward, so just want to clarify so there’s no surprises. Commissioner Beeson, you have your hand. Go ahead.

[00:05:18] Ken Beeson, Planning Commission member (Dec. 5, 2023): I guess I would say at this point I’m not going to vote in favor of moving the code amendments forward, and we’ve had a lot of discussion about various items. I guess my quick comment about it: I’m really appreciative right now of the process the Planning Commission has used here. I think we had some very good discussion over the last several meetings, I think particularly tonight we’ve had some very good discussion. We’re here in part to provide our perspective back to the City Council. I think for that purpose, we’ve provided a lot of good information and a good foundation for the City Council to take this on.

[00:06:01] John Q: Chair Edwards called for a vote.

[00:06:03] Tiffany Edwards (Eugene Planning Commission, chair, Dec. 5, 2023): I will go ahead and call for the vote on the motion before us. All of those in favor, please raise your hand and all of those in opposition, and I guess there’s three of us. So there’s four in favor.

[00:06:18] John Q: The city and county noted their future problems with parking. On April 23:

[00:06:26] Jared Bauder, Lane County senior planner (April 23, 2024): Last night after voting to approve the neighborhood plan and the Eugene Code amendments, the City Council made motions to hold a work session before Jan. 1, 2025 to discuss possible options for addressing on-street parking issues and to discuss voluntary annexation in the River Road – Santa Clara areas.

[00:06:48] Pat Farr, Lane County commissioner (April 23, 2024): And you mentioned parking. We all remember what happened with Ecco Apartments and the street annexation that occurred subsequent to that, but they didn’t really seem to settle the parking and I’m curious. People out there are still kind of stinging from that. They’re also stinging a bit from some upcoming development that’s not requiring enough—or they feel there’s enough parking for what’s going to take place in multifamily units that are being currently built. How does that happen? What is happening with that? Why are we doing one? What is it, one parking spot for every four units in one, one development?

[00:07:26] Terri Harding, Eugene Planning (April 23, 2024): As far as requirements for off-street parking, so parking associated with development, the council did approve a parking ordinance to implement the Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities rules, and no off-street parking at all is required for new development going forward.

[00:07:44] Parking continues to be built. And we’re seeing that in multifamily all over the city. But that is not a requirement in the code any longer. So we’ll become even more dependent, I believe, on strategies to manage the right-of-way and manage the impacts from development as it occurs, and I believe that is why our Council was so interested in bringing back the parking issue, which is not just land use code, but also our parking staff and transportation staff and county departments to work together to address it from different angles.

[00:08:19] Pat Farr, Lane County commissioner (April 23, 2024): Okay. I’m not certain that that satisfies my concerns and other, you know, residents’ concerns as they’re reflected through me, because it doesn’t take into account the people who actually have residences there already who will be impacted. Because, we all know this: People with apartments do have cars, and they will park them someplace.

[00:08:39] And I’m presuming that the Council is highly attuned to that and they are aware that much of the parking that happened with Ecco wasn’t inside the city limits, it was outside the city limits, and so it became an issue for the county to mitigate, and it was a real issue for a while, you know. Some people put their garbage cans on the street so people couldn’t park there, people parked on lawns, you know, and it continues to be an issue.

[00:08:59] I don’t sit in on City Council meetings anymore, but I would hope that they consider that, that while the climate-friendly element is absolutely essential and it’s something that we all support, understanding that there are people living there currently who are going to be dramatically affected, and whose children walking to school are going to be dramatically affected, whose kids riding in the neighborhood on the weekends are going to be dramatically affected by the lack of parking in multifamily developments that are being proposed and built out there.

[00:09:26] I know you’re aware of that, and I know I’m not saying something that’s not been said to you before, but that flag is still up the pole as far as I’m concerned. We need to keep a close eye on it because it does affect county residents, and until we do a full annexation out there, we will have people living directly across the street from developments inside of the city of Eugene, live in the county, therefore, the EPD (Eugene Police Department) has no jurisdiction nor do they want it. And the Sheriff’s Department with one deputy per, well, how many square miles? It simply does not have the capacity to address the parking issues in that area.

[00:10:00] Ryan Ceniga, Lane County commissioner (April 23, 2024): Can we get more, a little more in-depth into the building height restrictions or lack thereof? I know that’s been a huge concern of somebody being in their backyard and having a high-rise next to them and no privacy. What—where exactly did we land on that?

[00:10:17] Terri Harding, Eugene Planning (April 23, 2024): Sure. We proposed—the proposal that went through the planning commissions was to change the allowable height of buildings in the commercial zone from the old allowable height of 120 feet to 65 feet. And that affects all of the property that’s zoned commercial throughout River Road and Santa Clara. Mixed-use development is allowed in those areas. So you could see a tall commercial building or a tall mixed-use building or a tall residential building in that zone.

So that was the height that was agreed upon and approved by Council. The only exception is the area that Jared noted on River Avenue, the more industrial kind of area. The building height doesn’t apply there and neither do the other changes to the code; the prohibited uses and some design standards and transition standards. Also, they’re carved out of all of those changes along River Avenue.

[00:11:14] Ryan Ceniga, Lane County commissioner (April 23, 2024): Okay. In the end, a big push for this was to be is (part of the parking issue also is) a walk-ped-type development. And a lot of that was structured around commercial on the first floor, but we completely went away from that, right?

[00:11:31] Terri Harding, Eugene Planning (April 23, 2024): Throughout the process there was a desire for mixed-use development, a desire to bring more businesses to the area. They are definitely allowed but they are not required on the first floor of a commercially-zoned property—a building built on a commercially zoned property.

[00:11:47] During the planning process, different options were explored. There was a point where the draft code would have required ground-floor commercial at certain intersections. That didn’t make it into the final package, and since then, there have been some housing-related bills passed at the state level that actually make it very difficult for cities to require that—and mandate that we waive that requirement if we do actually put it into place—for people that are proposing housing.

[00:12:17] John Q: The city and county approve a package that never addressed three issues raised by River Road:

  1. Parking issues already seen at Ecco Apartments and predicted to spread across Northwest Eugene
  2. Getting ground-floor businesses into those 65-foot buildings on the corridor to provide needed services and amenities
  3. Flexibility instead of one-size-fits-all major transportation corridors.

[00:12:46] Jon Belcher (Planning Commission public hearing, Oct. 10, 2023): If this plan moves forward as it is currently written, there is a significant concern that we will lose what little bit of commercial we currently have…

[00:12:56] This plan is a unique plan in that a large part of it isn’t a plan. It’s an action item list and in my pessimistic days, I called it ‘a someday, maybe, possibly never list,’ and we’re putting a lot of faith in that. We articulated our concerns. There are no ‘shall’s in this plan other than you review it every five years, which is also a unique situation.

[00:13:21] So, for me, I’m very hopeful that we will see some really great things come out of it, but only if we are diligent, the city is diligent, and frankly, the resources are available to make those things happen. That’s a lot of ‘if’s.

[00:13:44] Jon Belcher (Joint city-county public hearing, Oct. 17, 2023): It’s also unfortunate the Planning Department pulled the plug on this process before we could reach consensus on a final draft of the plan that met the original goals of the planning process… So the agreement from the project charter has not met River Road-Santa Clara Area Plan, and it joins the South Willamette Concept Plan as the second time the city of Eugene has failed to meet their promise from Envision Eugene.

[00:14:13] Jon Belcher (Neighborhood Leaders Council, Oct. 24, 2023): And unfortunately this plan is sort of half into the old world, because it is a neighborhood plan, and halfway into the new world, which it has almost no policies that have any effect or have any mandatory application.

[00:14:33] Jon Belcher (River Road Community Organization, March 11, 2024): The idea that we had that we spent all of our time trying to turn River Road into a much more pedestrian-friendly neighborhood: It’s gone. The city said, ‘We’ve spent a million dollars on this and we don’t want to do it anymore.’

[00:14:48] John Q: State mandates and the city planning staff steamroll two northwest neighborhoods, and turn residents’ visions into ‘a someday, maybe, possibly never list.’

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