By Tyler Leeds

The Bulletin

As Bend’s population swells, the city is running out of room to grow, which has led to an effort to expand its urban growth boundary. Nonetheless, the city-owned Juniper Ridge property remains mostly vacant, as costly and necessary infrastructure projects dampen the appeal of what is becoming increasingly rare open acreage.

The urban growth boundary, often abbreviated as the UGB, divides where urban developments are allowed from land falling under Deschutes County’s rural development code. The state controls UGB expansions and in 2010 rejected a bid to expand Bend’s boundary intended to accommodate growth through 2028. Among the reasons the bid was rejected was the city’s failure to plan for enough growth on the land it already had available, the state argued.

One of the biggest swaths of vacant land is Juniper Ridge, located in the city’s northeast corner. The city earlier financed a conceptual plan for the 1,500-acre site containing a business park, shopping areas, hundreds of homes, parks, trails and a university. That plan was derailed during the recession and only two businesses, Les Schwab and Suterra, and Pacific Power have properties within the 500 acres that are already included in the UGB.

The issues that have prevented private developers from looking at the site have also stopped OSU-Cascades from being able to consider the location, though critics of the university’s plans to expand on the city’s west side insist it’s possible.

The city isn’t looking to include more of Juniper Ridge when the UGB expands, but is instead focusing on what can be done with the mostly sagebrush-covered lands it already has in the boundary. Discussions so far have centered on how much to emphasize large industrial sites over residential developments. A number of challenges stand in the way of any potential developer, however, including an acute need for a new sewer line and expensive road upgrades required by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Paying for roads

In 2010, the city and ODOT signed an agreement requiring that about $49 million worth of road improvements be made to handle increased traffic from future developments. The agreement only covers about 300 acres of the land within Juniper Ridge and ties certain upgrades to the number of vehicles that would be coming and going from the site. Les Schwab and Suterra were built before the agreement was in place, and as a result, were not required to finance any projects.

Due to the city’s completion of a nearby roundabout at Empire Avenue and 18th Street and other projects, the equivalent of 700 rush hour car trips are able to be added before additional upgrades will be required by any new developer. If a new project were to generate more than 700 trips, however, the builder would need to contribute to the $49 million of work.

“At the time of the agreement, we were looking at a long-term solution (for handling traffic on U.S. 97),” said Bob Bryant, ODOT’s region manager for the Bend area. “What we agreed to was these incremental improvements that wouldn’t conflict, or even better, could become part of the final solution for the area.”

That final solution is estimated to cost $200 million, something Bryant said ODOT will not be able to fund on its own. In reference to the agreement, he said it was authored “in a different time,” when the city was bullish on the amount of tax revenue Juniper Ridge would be generating.

Since the recession, the state revised the rules governing how much developers have to contribute to road improvements. Bryant said the agreement could be altered based on the new rules, which would likely mean developers would have to contribute less than the original $49 million.

The city’s director of growth management, Nick Arnis, said the city hasn’t moved to revise the agreement because traffic can still increase before any new construction would be required.

“There’s no urgency right now for a new agreement,” he said.

Paying for sewers

While the site has the capacity for more vehicles, sewers are a different story. Tom Hickmann, the city’s director of infrastructure and engineering planning, said the city’s ability to hook up new buildings to the existing system “is very limited.” As part of a $125 million long-range vision, the city has plans for a new sewer interceptor near Juniper Ridge that would increase capacity.

Hickmann described an interceptor as “the highway of sewer lines,” saying what’s currently available near Juniper Ridge is the equivalent of overcrowded local streets.

The interceptor would cost around $15 million and take five years to complete. But Hickmann emphasized the city is in need of new sewer lines all over and the north side wasn’t considered the top priority by the City Council or a committee of community advisers.

“So if you’re a business trying to go in up there, you’d need that interceptor,” Hickmann said. “All you can do now is to go to the council and plead them to make it a higher priority, and then hope the council can have a policy discussion and turn up the associated funding.”

What about OSU?

Hickmann emphasized that existing sewer capacity “is certainly not sufficient for OSU-Cascades.” However, roads may be less of a problem, as with some detailed planning and strict rules on car use, Arnis thinks an OSU-Cascades campus could “just get under the wire” and avoid needing to build new road infrastructure based on the vehicle trips agreement.

The university’s communications director, Christine Coffin, said cost and the time it would take to build anything were huge barriers to locating at Juniper Ridge, but enumerated a number of other reasons the school instead selected a campus on the city’s west side. Some of the factors she cited include accessibility to transit, proximity to Central Oregon Community College and how attractive the location would be to prospective faculty and students.

“The site we have was the clear winner on a number of measures,” she said.

Members of Truth in Site, an organization suing to block the campus development off SW Chandler Avenue, are skeptical.

Marie Matthews, a co-founder of the organization, said the city should be able to leverage potential tax revenue from developments at Juniper Ridge to finance infrastructure for the university. Theoretically, this is a strategy the city is able to do because part of Juniper Ridge has been established as an urban renewal district.

In urban renewal districts, cities are able to borrow money to build infrastructure based on the prospect of future tax revenue being generated from whatever buildings may occupy the site.

“It’s like betting on the come,” Matthews said. “And when OSU goes out there, those property values will go through the sky.”

While the university will not pay property taxes because it’s a public institution, Matthews said it will attract private developers catering to students.

While the city is able to borrow some money based on the prospect of future tax revenue, the city’s finance director, Sharon Wojda, said it is not able to borrow nearly enough to cover something like a sewer line.

Carolyn Eagan, the city’s economic development director, said the infrastructure costs blocking OSU-Cascades have contributed to the slow private build-up at Juniper Ridge. There are other problems, however, that are less specific to Juniper Ridge.

Not many buildings are available for industrial use in the city, something a large portion of Juniper Ridge has been set aside for, Eagan noted. Building new industrial buildings, meanwhile, is expensive, so firms have had a hard time making a move to Bend add up.

This fall, the city will begin finalizing how to expand the UGB and what to do with areas already inside, including Juniper Ridge.

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

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