A controversial apartment complex by the Colorado Avenue bridge in Bend won city approval Thursday, but opponents say they plan to appeal that decision.

Will Van Vactor, a land use attorney hired by the city to oversee two packed public hearings, issued an 88-page decision Thursday approving Seattle-based Evergreen Housing Development Group’s application but rejecting the developer’s height variance request to make the apartments 5 feet taller than allowed by the city.

Van Vactor’s decision will stand unless an appeal is filed with the Bend City Council by March 19. That’s a given, said Linda May, who lives near the proposed apartments and belongs to a group of Bend residents organizing opposition to the project since it was proposed more than a year ago.

“There’s most definitely going to be an appeal to the City Council,” May said Thursday. “We’re a fairly well-organized group.”

Evergreen wants to build 170 apartments, most of them studios or one-bedroom units, in a four-story building between the Colorado Avenue bridge and the Bend Park & Recreation District’s Pavilion.

Andrew Brand, Evergreen’s executive director of development, said he would have been surprised if the decision wasn’t appealed. The company is happy with Van Vactor’s decision, and his ruling that the building can’t exceed 45 feet in height likely won’t have a significant impact, Brand said.

“The height variance in and of itself was never driving extra density or extra floors,” he said.

Given the possibility of appeals, it’s too early to tell when construction could start, Brand said.

Applications like the one for these apartments usually go through a simple approval process in which city staff review whether the plan meets city codes. Because it sparked an unusual amount of community outcry, critics were able to force the public hearings.

The city received 280 comments about the project, the overwhelming majority of which were opposed to it. More than 100 people packed the ground floor of the Bend City Hall for a raucous five-hour hearing in January, then many more returned a week later for a second hearing.

Since the project was proposed nearly a year ago, residents who live near the proposed apartments have organized opposition to them and waved picket signs by the roundabout at Colorado and Simpson avenues in advance of meetings about the proposed apartments.

May said Thursday she was sad about Van Vactor’s decision but hopes she’ll meet new neighbors who move into the new apartments if his decision is upheld. However, she said building the apartments will turn the Pavilion and the Bend Whitewater Park, two projects funded by a 2012 bond, into private playgrounds for the residents of new apartments.

“To me, it seems as though zoning has been an insult to the taxpayers,” she said. “We’ve committed to paying for the Pavilion and Whitewater Park until 2033.”

Opponents of the proposed apartments cited concerns about parking, traffic, rent prices, building height and how the apartments will fit in with existing buildings.

The project received enthusiastic support from some Bend residents, including members of the city’s burgeoning YIMBY, or Yes, In My Backyard, group, who want to address Bend’s housing crisis by increasing its housing supply.

Although the apartments, which will start on the high end of market-rate housing, won’t be affordable to rent for many in Bend, YIMBYs believe increasing the supply of housing will drive costs down overall.

If the decision is appealed, the City Council can decide whether or not to hear it, said Brian Harrington, the city planner assigned to the application. If the council decides not to hear the appeal, it then goes to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.

Appellants have to pay a fee, and Harrington said he hasn’t calculated what the fee would be in this case.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160; jshumway@bendbulletin.com