More than 100 people packed Bend City Hall’s ground floor Thursday during a raucous five-hour hearing on proposed apartments between the Bend Park & Recreation District’s Pavilion and the Colorado Avenue bridge.
Attendees, most of whom adamantly opposed Seattle-based Evergreen Housing Development Group’s proposal to build a 170-unit apartment building in a four-story building, spilled into the hallway and sat cross-legged on the floor. They criticized the number of parking spaces Evergreen plans to provide, the impact they believed new residents would have on traffic, expected rent costs, building height and the shadows it could cast and the out-of-state developer.
Over the past few days, opponents of the proposed apartments have picketed near the roundabout at Colorado and Simpson avenues and inundated social media sites with posts, many of which featured a rendering commissioned by Old Mill District developer Bill Smith that depicts the apartments as an obstructive gray block.
By the time the hearing started Thursday morning, the city had received more than 110 comments about the project, the overwhelming majority of which were opposed to the project, Bend Associate Planner Brian Harrington said.
The city will continue accepting written comments through Jan. 18. A second hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m. at City Hall.
Linda May, who lives near the proposed apartments and has spent months organizing neighbors against the development, said people throughout the city are opposed to it because the Colorado Avenue bridge is considered the gateway to all that is beautiful in Bend. The apartments would dominate that area, she said.
“This is not just a neighborhood and commuter problem,” she said. “There’s concerned citizens from all areas of Bend, out of town and some out of state.”
Many who opposed the apartments discussed its height. City guidelines cap heights in the mixed-use riverfront zone at 45 feet, but Evergreen is requesting a 5-foot variance because a portion of the angled roof exceeds that height limit.
Other nearby structures, including the My Place hotel on Bond Street, Deschutes Brewery’s fermentation tanks, and the Hampton Inn on Columbia Street, are also taller than 50 feet. Because of the slope of the property, opponents say the Evergreen apartments will appear significantly taller, however.
Smith, who worked on creating the mixed-use riverfront zone the proposed apartments fall into, said he spent years working with other developers to create plans for the area around the former mill site. While a master plan envisioned a 125-room hotel and an 8,000-square-foot restaurant on the roughly 3-acre piece of land where Evergreen plans to build apartments, Smith said the apartment building isn’t an appropriate use.
“This thing has negative uses out the yingyang,” he said. “It’s too big. … This building just plain doesn’t fit.”
Others said the developer’s plan to provide 187 parking spaces for 170 units wasn’t enough. Building plans call for 186 total bedrooms, with 156 studio or one-bedroom apartments, 12 two-bedroom apartments and two three-bedroom apartments. City code requires one parking space for every studio or one-bedroom apartment, 1.5 for every two-bedroom apartment and two for every three-bedroom apartment, but critics say those requirements don’t consider the average number of cars per household.
Although most speakers were opposed to the project, the city received several letters from supporters, many of whom are members of Bend’s YIMBY, or “Yes, In My Backyard,” group that supports building more homes. Andrew Brand, Evergreen’s executive director of development, said Tuesday the company had seen more support for this project than others it has done.
Jonas Norkunas, one of those supporters, said developing more apartments, particularly near downtown, will result in less demand for available rental units and lower rents.
“We’re going to have to deal with traffic,” he said. “We’re going to have to deal with buildings blocking our views. It’s just part of becoming a city.”
This type of development normally doesn’t require a public hearing — city staff make decisions, and a hearing would only come about if someone appealed the staff decision. In this case, Harrington recommended approval with a few conditions, including that the developer plant trees, replace existing pipes with larger ones and pay $56,000 toward a future fix of the intersection at Simpson Avenue and Columbia Street.
Bend Planning Manager Colin Stephens said he chose to elevate the proposal to the next level of review, which includes a public hearing before a hearings officer hired by the city and paid for by the applicant.
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