A new Bend Park & Recreation District approach to paying for new development is taking shape, and it is likely to include exemptions for affordable housing.
During a lengthy meeting Tuesday evening, the park district’s board of directors honed a plan to restructure the fees, known as system development charges, that the district charges to developers to pay for new parks, new trails and other development.
After much deliberation and input from residents, developers and elected officials, the board opted to adopt a four-tiered system that charges different-sized single-family homes different amounts of money. That ties into the board’s stated goal of maintaining the district’s current level of service, while making the fees more equitable for less-affluent Bend residents.
“I think the tiers adequately address the progressive nature that we need to have,” said park board Chair Brady Fuller.
The board decided not to add a charge to nonresidential structures in Bend, a move that might have captured a wider cross section of use, but that critics said would be unwieldy and hostile to new development.
Perhaps most importantly, the district voted to waive SDCs on affordable housing units every year until 2023, a move that affordability advocates have requested for years.
“The parks fee is larger than any single fee that the city charges,” said Kathy Austin, a member of Bend’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, prior to the meeting.
SDCs represent a mechanism for local governments to assess fees on new development as a way to fund the system improvements required to keep up with that development.
For example, the park district has long used the charges to develop new parks and trails, as a way to maintain its level of service as the district adds new residents.
However, the park district’s approach to SDCs has drawn the ire of Oregon’s affordable housing groups. As of November, the district’s single-family SDC stood at $7,949, which put it fifth among SDC rates charged by local park districts across Oregon, behind four districts serving Portland-area communities.
In 2015, the city of Bend exempted affordable housing from SDCs on water, sewer and other measures. Austin said she would like to see the district follow suit, a move that she said would cost the district relatively little, while alleviating one of the most significant single fees developers face while building affordable housing.
“The SDC fees really add up for them,” Austin said.
The decision would waive charges on up to 100 affordable housing units per year, which the district determined could cost around $570,000 per year if all 100 units are built. While all five board members eventually supported the approach, Vice Chair Ted Schoenborn expressed reservations about the process, on the basis that it reduces trails and parks for vulnerable residents.
“The people that are most in need of green space, and recreation facilities, are those people in the smallest kinds of homes,” he said.
Additionally, the district set up a tiered fee system for single-family homes, with fees beginning at $6,599 for homes that are less than 1,000 square feet, to $9,722 for homes larger than 3,000 square feet. Michelle Healy, planning and park services director for the district, said the totals could change.
Still, not everyone was happy with the park district’s approach. Several speakers, including Austin and Bend city Councilor Barb Campbell, criticized the district for setting lofty goals on how much park and trail space the district should maintain as the city grows.
“I think that the city is happy with the level of service that you’re providing, but I think this really represents a growth in that service,” Campbell said. “And a lot of us would like to tell you that we can’t afford it.”
The park district is planning to have a draft of its methodology report available by March 22, which will begin a 60-day public comment period. A public hearing is scheduled for May 21.
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