The hearing over OSU-Cascades’ proposed campus began Tuesday, with the university and opponents offering opposing assessments of the quality of a traffic study and parking plan submitted to the city of Bend.
The hearing, overseen by an independent hearings officer, will evaluate the OSU-Cascades site application for a 10-acre parcel adjacent to the Southwest Century Drive and Chandler Avenue roundabout. The hearings officer’s job is to determine whether the plan meets the criteria set forth in Bend’s development code. In its presentation, OSU-Cascades noted how a university is allowed on the site as zoned, and also walked through the work underlying its traffic analysis and parking management plan, both of which have been criticized by opponents for failing to accurately predict how much traffic the university will attract.
The opposition argued the traffic study contradicted the parking plan, and that because the university hopes to develop an adjacent 46 acres, it should be required to complete a master plan for the entire 56-acre site.
The hearing was held in the City of Bend Municipal Courtroom, with about 200 attendees taking up all available seats and standing in the back. Around 30 people wore or held neon green shirts reading, “Choose the right site.” The shirts were distributed by Truth In Site, a group organized against the university’s campus location.
Before either side had the opportunity to speak, the city presented its report on the application. Senior Planner Aaron Henson recommended the hearings officer approve the site, saying the city is satisfied with the plan. Despite this recommendation, Henson added the city would like the ability to require OSU-Cascades to adjust its parking plan if on-site parking proves insufficient and neighborhood streets are significantly affected.
Despite the proposed condition, Henson pointed out the code governing the university’s parking system is quite broad.
“For most uses we have very clear-cut standards, if you have so much square feet, you need so many parking spaces,” Henson said. “But for colleges, the code says the parking needs to be based on a parking management plan, so it’s very discretionary.”
In the university’s opening remarks, its land use attorney, Steve Janik, painted the debate as one between “technical sense” underlying the university’s parking plan and traffic study and “common sense” guiding the opposition.
“Common sense is useful for many things, but technical sense is needed to determine how many parking spaces are needed and how traffic will be affected,” Janik said, going on to praise the traffic engineering firm OSU-Cascades hired, Kittelson & Associates, which has offices across the nation.
Two of the firm’s engineers, Joe Bessman and Phillip Worth, walked through the university’s traffic study and parking management plan. While discussing the traffic study, Bessman noted the 10-acre parcel under discussion was originally intended to house an 80,400-square-foot shopping center, and the firm’s high estimate for the university’s traffic generation is below what such a commercial area would generate.
Worth addressed concerns about the roughly 300 proposed on-site parking spots, which opponents have said are too few. He cited studies concerning the rising use of alternative transit among millennials, and also pointed out the campus is only capable of holding just over 1,000 people at any one time, despite the fact that about 1,900 will attend and work at the site.
Following the university’s official 45-minute presentation, nearly 40 supporters of the site offered their opinions to the hearings officer during three-minute windows. The queue included a large number of public and private sector leaders.
High Desert Education Service District Superintendent John Rexford spoke to the university’s ability to boost college attendance rates for Central Oregonians wishing to stay in the region. Central Oregon Association of Realtors Government Affairs Director Bill Robie argued the university will help the local economy, saying it can stabilize and improve home prices. Other supporters included Central Oregon Community College President Jim Middleton, Bend-La Pine Schools Superintendent Ron Wilkinson and Brooks Resources CEO Mike Hollern.
For its opposition, Truth In Site hired Portland-based land use attorney Jeffrey Kleinman and Rick Nys, a traffic engineer for Greenlight Engineering, a small Portland-area firm. Kleinman focused his argument on the fact that the 10-acre site application is a precursor for a larger 56-acre campus, and therefore OSU-Cascades should be required to create a plan for the entire area.
The university is currently waiting on an environmental report before purchasing the adjacent site, but does have plans to create a master plan for the entire site once purchased. Kleinman said the university should have to complete that plan before receiving approval for the 10-acre site.
“The applicant has put the cart before the horse, and has asked everyone to wear blinders and not look at the full project,” Kleinman said.
He also attacked the assumptions underlying the parking management plan, characterizing it as “Rumsfeldian,” referring to the former secretary of defense.
“They’re relying upon known unknowns and unknown knowns. From that you can’t get a number of parking spaces,” Kleinman said.
During his presentation, Nys said the university’s traffic study and parking management plan “didn’t match at all,” and therefore are unreliable. He also challenged the premise that a significant number of students would walk or bike.
“If the area is so walkable and bikeable, why doesn’t anyone do that now?” he asked, noting his analysis showed only 1 percent of total traffic at the adjacent roundabout was from pedestrians or bicyclists.
The meeting will continue at 9 a.m. today. The hearings officer will begin by offering opponents of the site the opportunity to speak. A couple of opponents spoke Tuesday, but the bulk did not. It is expected that written comments will be accepted for a period after the hearing ends.
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