By Tyler Leeds

The Bulletin

The city of Bend’s urban growth boundary expansion isn’t all about making the city’s footprint bigger, but also determining what can be done to make better use of the land it already has.

Last week, city staff and volunteer advisers discussed zoning and policy tools to increase the density of future residential developments and better mix offices and commercial uses into areas near where people live. In the parlance of the boundary process, these tools are called efficiency measures, and the city is required to put them into place by state law. An earlier request to expand the boundary was denied by the state in 2010, in part, the state agency reviewing the proposal argued, because Bend hadn’t done enough with the land it already had.

“In essence, efficiency measures are a set of changes to the city’s development code or policies that require us to make more efficient use of our land, which means adding density with residents and employees,” said Brian Rankin, a Bend planner overseeing the boundary expansion.

Efficiency is key to the state’s land use laws, which are designed to protect farmland and natural areas from sprawl by containing urban developments within growth boundaries. As a result, cities have to prove they’re fully using the land they have available before the state will cede more.

While the concept is clear, Rankin said the efficiency measures also have to take into account what the community wants and what developers will agree to, as the city can’t force a development company to build something it doesn’t want to.

“Whenever you change the development code, you change the way people do business and the way things get built in the real world,” Rankin said. “You need to make sure those things work for the community, developers and property owners, while also balancing the state’s objectives.”

One of the most straightforward and powerful efficiency measures the city is looking at, Rankin said, is the ability to rezone underdeveloped or vacant areas within the existing boundary.

“We’ve identified a number of these opportunity sites across the city, and they tend to be larger properties and zoned for low or standard density,” Rankin said. “What we’re saying is that some of these areas should be considered for more density. For example, you have 100 acres at a standard density, which doesn’t require commercial or employment. We’re saying, take 40 acres and make a mix of employment and commercial and medium or high density housing.”

Some of the opportunity areas ripe for higher density identified by the city include the industrial area between downtown and Third Street and areas off Southwest Century Drive.

Another tool the city is looking at is requiring less parking for apartment and commercial buildings, especially those located close to transit. Rankin noted shaving a few spaces off an apartment building can result in more units being built, adding that the change in parking doesn’t need to be significant.

Other ideas include increasing building heights in certain areas and ruling out very low density residential developments. To implement these changes, the city also has to rewrite sections of its comprehensive plan, a guiding document the state requires all cities to maintain.

“The way I explain it is that the comprehensive plan says we’re going north to Seattle, while the development code says we have to make a left on Franklin and then take 97 to Portland and the I-5,” Rankin said. “The plan is our vision, and the code offers the specific set of requirements to achieve that end.”

A number of the changes to the plan reflect the city’s desire to create more mixed-use neighborhoods, where different types of housing intermingles with businesses and shops. Being able to walk between one’s home, office and shopping, and thus take cars off the road, is one advantage of such developments.

While these changes outline what the efficiency measures aim to achieve, not all of the measures will be adopted by the time the city hopes to finish the boundary expansion process in 2016.

Rankin said some of the proposed measures will need to be studied further and require community input before they can become law, while others are relatively simpler and essential to the boundary expansion.

Approval of the eventual boundary expansion rests with the City Council and the Deschutes County commissioners. If both bodies approve it, the state will then consider the new boundary and related efficiency measures.

Work on setting a new boundary is paused this summer as city staff and consultants work on testing out how different expansion plans affect infrastructure, such was roads and sewers. In the fall, the city will begin holding meetings to narrow down on a single new boundary.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com

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