Locals hear it all the time: We're living in one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. What that often means is, in more than one facet of life, the speed of growth outpaces what one person, company, entity or government can get a handle on. It also means we watch the difference between the speed at which government can act, and the speed at which the rest of the economy moves.
In the case of the proposed Deschutes County central library, we can see the pains that come when ideas outstrip capacity. The project was approved by voters countywide during the November 2020 election, with 52.42% of voters saying yes; 47.58% saying no. And while some have vehemently opposed the sited location for this countywide central hub—near the junction of Hwy. 20 and Hwy. 97, where it would be easy to access for the Deschutes County residents who live in Sisters and Redmond—what is currently in question is not necessarily location, but timing.
Last week, DPL brought the project before the Bend City Council, hoping to be granted a variance to avoid a required Urban Growth Boundary master planning process and get work started. While, to the average onlooker it would seem to be "inside Bend" due to the massive amount of retail and traffic and its proximity to landmarks like the sheriff's office and Trader Joe's, the site is presently outside Bend's UGB.
At its meeting March 16, councilors did not indicate support for a variance. A past council granted one to nearby North Star Elementary, citing an urgent need for more classrooms for kids, but current councilors did not seem to see the same urgency for the central library. The nearby intersection at Robal Road and Hwy. 97 still needs to be improved. A sewer project, which has been wending its way around much of Bend at great expense and effort, has yet to be scheduled for the area. DPL appears to have done its due diligence by getting verbal approval from the Bend Planning Commission regarding the variance. Now, though, the heavy lift with the current City Council appears to be more difficult.
When our community talks about the pace of growth, these struggles around projects like a central library are the growing pains. We agree that granting a variance is not the right move at this time. It would result in having a library—and its promised events spaces for up to 300 people—built before the infrastructure can support it. But we can't help but look across the highway from this project at the big boxes already in place, and think, if there's a will, there's a way. Voters coming out in support of a project is the evidence of will. What we are hoping for now, is the way from our public officials. (Editor's note: A previous version of this piece named the events space as a 'performing arts center.' DPL clarified that it is an events space.)
Right now, we are seeing housing prices continue to skyrocket and all sorts of housing pop up in all parts of Bend. We are growing in population, and that's meant a growing need for more schools and more parks, more cops; more everything that makes life better and safer for residents. Bend has seen fit to build more big boxes, but when it comes to crucial cultural institutions, it appears we are awakening from two years of COVID haze and balking at the challenge. We've gained a Chik-Fil-A, but heaven help us if we try to add a theater.
The gears of government rarely run smoothly, and none of us should expect a massive project like a centralized library to dovetail smoothly with City planning. In the frenetic pace we currently live in, we do expect, after hearing from the community on this library bond—through a public vote—that the various government entities gather the collective will to see this project break ground sooner rather than later.
Correction: The original version of this piece stated that the Library has five years to spend the bond money or it must be returned; that was incorrect. The bond, issued by the Deschutes Public Library special tax district, is subject to the Internal Revenue Service's Arbitrage Requirements for Issuers of Tax-Exempt Bonds, which require bond issuers to report incomes made from interest on the bonds. After the first five years of a bond's issuance, the rules around what is reported to the IRS and what monies are owed to the IRS (due to profits made from interest) change, and at that point monies may be owed to the IRS; hence the misunderstanding and our statement about the Library having five years to spend the bond. We regret the errors.