Deschutes County Hearings Officer Ken Helm has approved Oregon State University-Cascades site plan for a 10-acre campus expansion in southwest Bend, but the go-ahead comes with some conditions, namely recommendations regarding road crossing improvements and parking enhancements recommended by the City's planning department.
“We appreciate the City’s and Mr. Helm’s thorough review of our application, as well as the extensive community input regarding the site plan,” OSU-Cascades Vice President Becky Johnson said in a release. “The site approval marks another exciting step towards a four-year university for Bend and Central Oregon."
The decision in the contentious land use debate comes after a two-day public hearing on June 10 and 11. About 34 people testified in support of the land use application, with about 19 speaking in opposition.
Those in favor spoke to the following, according to the hearings officer's summary:
• A four year college has been desired for many years for both educational and economic reasons. It furthers a long term vision for the City of Bend.
• Juniper Ridge is not a feasible alternative location for the college due to the high infrastructure costs (asserted to be 30-40 million dollars).
• The subject property is the best option because of its location and access to services that students will need.
• Students will be good neighbors and a benefit to West Bend.
• Prior development such as NW Crossing anticipated a college on the west side.
• Transit service via bus route 16 will be available and the shuttle from COCC will work well.
• Local high school graduates from Redmond, Prineville, Sister and LaPine need a local four year college option.
• The proposed design of the college, including the aggressive multi-modal transportation proposals are welcome sustainable actions. A west side location is more environmentally friendly than Juniper Ridge.
• Local companies want and need trained graduates.
• Encouraging students to bike commute is desirable and many bikers commute to school and work year round.
Those in opposition argued:
• The PMP essentially double counts the reduction in parking by considering walking, biking, and carpooling as distinct modes of transportation.
• Preschool pick up in the afternoon on Chandler Avenue closes one lane for a time. For many reasons, parking on Chandler should be restricted to one side of the street.
• A master plan must be required. Developing the 56 acre campus piecemeal deprives the community of an opportunity to see all the impacts and mitigations that will occur in the vicinity.
• Several opponents including Mr. Holdren and Mr. Walker challenged the assumptions of the PMP as to the actual reduction in the need for parking spaces that the PMP attributed to various alternative transportation modes. Those objections are discussed below.
• The TIA data is flawed because it was measured in November and not seasonally adjusted, and additional trips from newly approved developments was not considered. The TIA also should have examined impacts on the Century Drive/ Reed Market roundabout.
• The PMP did not take into account the near absence of vacant rental housing (and affordable rental housing) in the City of Bend and specifically on the west side of Bend.
• Opponents strongly disputed the assumption that students will bike to the campus in the winter months.
• Other similarly sized schools (in terms of total students) in the vicinity including high schools and COCC have a far higher number of parking spaces – from 500 to 1500.
• When the remaining 46 acres are included in the campus, they will be difficult to build upon due to topography and settling due to existing fills.
Despite the passions behind both sides, the hearings officer had a very specific task. To weigh evidence and testimony that was pertained to the applicable code criteria or other areas that those criteria represent. As such, he did not take the following into consideration in his decision:
• Testimony of the long held desire of many citizens and elected officials to bring a four year university to the City of Bend.
• Testimony of the asserted economic benefit to Central Oregon.
• Testimony that Juniper Ridge would or would not be a better location. This is a quasi-judicial rather than legislative land use proceeding and it is well outside the scope of the applicable criteria, Staff’s duties, and the Hearings Officer’s authority to consider alternative locations for the proposed college.
• Testimony that trained graduates are needed for local business.
• Testimony opining on whether students will be good neighbors to existing residents.
• Testimony speculating on or alleging that OSU and its representatives have been untruthful or have intentionally misled interested participants.
In the summary, Helm provided context for his decision, and conceded that opponents to the site plan made valid points.
"It is easy to understand the frustration of [Truth in Site Coalition] and other concerned neighbors with the seemingly piecemeal way that OSU is moving forward with the OSU Cascades project. When a larger project, here a concept for a 50 acre + campus, has been discussed for years and would appear ideally suited for a master planning process, OSU’s approach comes very close to thwarting sound planning and the very purpose of the City’s master planning provisions
," Helm writes. "OSU could easily have requested that 4-R Equipment, LLC allow for the conceptual master planning of its 46 acre property, which would not be binding in the future if the current purchase and sales agreement falls through. However, there is no evidence that the applicant made such an effort. Thus, it is understandable that the opponents of this application view the 'ownership' issue as a superficial and convenient excuse to avoid the master planning process
Still, he points out, the applicant's interpretation of the Bend Development Code is correct as a matter of law. Because OSU is neither the “owner of record” nor the “contract purchaser” of the adjacent 467 acres Truth in Site argues OSU is planning to eventually expand in to.
"It is not permissible for the Hearings Officer to leap over the application requirements in BDC 4.1.200 and conclude, as TSC argues, that the master planning provisions in 4.5.300 and 4.5.400 somehow trump BDC 4.1.200 and allow the City to force a disinterested, and here uncooperative, property owner to submit to a master planning process to which he has specifically declared he does not wish to participate," Helm writes.
We'll continue to follow this story as it develops. Check back for updates. In the meantime, feel free to read the full 94-page document here