A new group attempting to organize opposition to the decision to locate Oregon State University-Cascades Campus’s new location on Bend’s west side held an open meeting and fundraiser Thursday night.
Truth In Site was formally organized a few weeks ago, according to the group’s spokesman and chairperson Scott Morgan. Morgan, 52, is a retired CEO from the health care industry and lives on Bend’s west side with his family.
The Thursday meeting attracted around 200 attendees, which included about a dozen people affiliated with the university.
Morgan began the meeting by saying he was a supporter of bringing a four-year OSU-Cascades Campus to Bend, but he believed the 56-acre site selected near the Southwest Chandler Avenue and Century Drive roundabout was a poor choice both for the university and the city.
Morgan raised concerns about traffic, parking and the availability of affordable housing for students. He also emphasized that he believes the process of selecting a site was rushed by the state’s deadline of opening the campus by fall 2015.
“It’s just an unrealistic time frame,” Morgan said in an interview before the open house. “That’s the amount of time needed to build a custom home, not a four-year university. Your grandkids are going to be living with this decision; it’s not just something you decide on a whim.”
Morgan said the goal of his group is to raise enough money to hire a land use attorney to oppose the location of the campus, as well as firms to study the traffic and environmental impact stemming from that location. Morgan said the group has already raised $10,000 toward its $50,000 goal. After the meeting, TIS member Marie Matthews, 73, said the group had received at least 20 individual donations, but that the actual number is probably higher.
During the meeting, Morgan raised the question of why Juniper Ridge, a city-owned mostly undeveloped 1,500-acre mixed-use project on the north end of the city, was not selected.
“There was a bunch of discussion about that site, but I’m not sure if I got specific data on that point,” he said.
The university has made the case that the cost of developing Juniper Ridge’s infrastructure prevented it from even considering the location. Bruce Abernethy, who was a member of the City Council when the city began planning the development of the area, stood up following Morgan’s comments.
“The $20 to $30 million improvement required at Cooley Road shut the door on any development,” he said. “It was a $30 million albatross around the neck of anyone who wanted to move in. I wanted it to be the site (for the university) 10 years ago, but it’s not feasible now.”
Despite Abernethy’s arguments, audience members returned to the possibility of a Juniper Ridge location many times during comments and questions.
“My instinct is the site they picked is limiting,” said Taylor Wimberley, who lives on Bend’s east side. “It’s not ambitious enough, they need to think about growth 100 to 150 years out.”
Wimberley’s comments were echoed throughout the night, with people noting the possibility the school may want to grow well beyond its current plans and that although the west side has many amenities, locating it north of the city may spur growth in that area.
Becky Johnson, an OSU vice president and the highest-ranking administrator in Bend, was present at the meeting and said she was frustrated by some misunderstandings presented during the meeting. In particular, she noted comments that placed the student population of the proposed campus well above 5,000, where the university plans to cap its size after starting with 1,900 in the fall of 2015. She also criticized the claim that 56 acres is not enough space for 5,000 students and the university.
“We had our consultant study that question, and 56 acres is what was called for,” she said.
Johnson noted Portland State University, which has almost 30,000 students on 50 acres, and the University of Oregon, which has a proportion of students to acres similar to what OSU-Cascades proposes to have.
“I also understand how people think 300 parking spots won’t be enough,” Johnson said. “But you have to account for the fact that people will be on different schedules, and that the site isn’t even supposed to hold more than 1,100 at one time. Plus, subtract the 300 students who will live there. Let’s say worst case, it’s not enough parking, well then we will move to build more.”
Kirk Schueler, a trustee of OSU, was also present at the meeting.
“Adding surface parking is not like building a space shuttle,” he said.
Schueler stressed that the university had invited feedback, at quarterly meetings, at two pairs of public input meetings and through the Campus Expansion Advisory Committee. He also noted that once the university is built, feedback won’t end, and that if there are problems the university can move to address them.
“Changes drive emotion,” he said. “If I’m a neighbor looking at this and have an inherent distrust that the university is going through an effort to do the right things, then that’s the bad neighbor perspective.”
Johnson also said the time frame imposed on the university was workable, and that more time would not have led to a different site selection.
“Absolutely no time element rushed us to that site, and we looked everywhere,” she said.
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