Bend homeowners and developers would split the cost of completing Empire Avenue and Murphy Road under a plan backed by the Bend City Council and intended to speed the construction of homes and businesses outside city limits.

The council could decide as soon as May to hike sewer and water fees and developers’ fees to pay for it.

Councilors and city staff have been trying to decide on the best way to annex and develop about 2,380 acres outside city limits and redevelop some areas inside Bend with taller and denser buildings.

They intend to focus first on an elbow-shaped area just southeast of the city limits and areas in the middle of town.

But they also want to extend Empire Avenue east to 27th Street and Murphy Road east to 15th Street, to make developing additional areas north, south and east of town easier.

Completing Empire Avenue is expected to cost $23 million and completing Murphy Road would cost $37 million, but the city’s pledged $15.6 million to Empire and $10 million to Murphy as part of its most recent plan for major transportation projects.

Both roads have been planned for years, and continuing to wait on funding and building them will exacerbate high housing costs, Councilor Bruce Abernethy said.

“We can either choose to put the funding into the infrastructure now and bring on these additional lands and play catch-up and try and reduce some of the congestion that’s out there, or we can not do it and continue to fall further and further behind,” Abernethy said. “I think we need to be almost as aggressive as we can because we’re going to pay for it either way.”

Bend has land inside city limits in the southeast part of town that’s ready to develop, and finishing Murphy Road will make developing that land and the elbow-shaped area outside of town a lot easier, said Russ Grayson, community development director.

Finishing Empire Avenue and working with a private developer to invest in temporary sewer facilities before two major city sewer lines can be completed will help build in the northeast, he said.

Private developers will still be responsible for many infrastructure improvements, Grayson said, but knowing what the city will pay for helps his department negotiate with developers.

An option councilors may vote on as early as May 2 would increase transportation system development charges — the fees developers pay to cover the costs their buildings’ occupants will have on the city’s road system — and increase sewer and water franchise fees Bend homeowners pay.

Developer fees, now set at $5,285 per home, would end up somewhere between $6,500 and $8,100. Franchise fees, paid by customers of the city’s water system, as well as Roats Water System and Avion Water, would increase 1 percent or 2 percent starting July 1.

That works out to $1 to $3 more a month for the average homeowner, although that number would vary based on water use and summer irrigation, city Finance Director Sharon Wojda wrote in an email.

It makes sense for current residents to pay part of the costs for extending the two roads because they’ll benefit from them, said Bend Mayor Casey Roats. But Roats, whose council seat is up for election this year, said he could see increased sewer rates becoming a “political football.”

“If Bend didn’t grow at all — let’s say we put a wall up around this city as some would suggest and close it down tomorrow — I think that the existing residents of the community would still benefit just as handsomely from a completed Empire corridor, as well as a completed Murphy corridor,” he said.

“My concern, and this usually happens in small-town politics, you stick your neck out on something like this, and I can already see the campaign ads next fall. The question is, if I stick my neck out, who’s going to come lop it off?”

—  Reporter: 541-633-2160; jshumway@bendbulletin.com

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