SALEM — With the aid of some creative legislative math and a flourish of Gov. Kate Brown’s pen, Redmond turned back time on Tuesday to win a prize it had already lost.
Brown signed House Bill 2336, which had the practical effect of awarding Redmond a pilot affordable housing project to build 485 homes outside of the state’s strictest land use rules.
“This is a project to get excited about,” said Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, a chief co-sponsor of the bill, Tuesday. “The city of Redmond is really happy. Everyone has put a lot of time in on this.”
But to get the to “all’s well that ends well” finish, lawmakers and their allies had to get creative.
HB 2336 was crafted to reverse an unforeseen consequence of the original 2016 legislation creating the pilot program.
That bill called for a statewide competition that would allow two cities to develop deed-restricted affordable housing projects in areas outside their urban growth boundaries.
The state Land Conservation and Development Commission would pick the winners that would be allowed to circumvent the often laborious process normally required to get development approval.
Later, the state would measure the results of projects and decide whether to continue, expand or shelve the pilot program.
When the state opened the competition in 2018, it expected a flood of plans. It got less than a trickle.
Bend and Redmond were the only two cities in Oregon to submit proposals.
Officials praised both ideas, but ranked Bend’s plan the best. It called for the city to develop 394 units between U.S. Highway 20 and Bear Creek Road. The 35-acre project will include a mix of affordable units and market-rate homes.
So, pilot project No. 1 went to Bend.
Pilot project No. 2 went to … nobody.
Redmond was the victim of over-optimistic state expectations of interest in the program. Supporters of the original legislation, betting on stiff competition for the pilot program slots, included language to even the playing field for small-town Oregon. One project was required to go to a city over 25,000 population. One was required to go to a city under 25,000.
Redmond has a population of about 30,000, putting it just above the cap for the second project. Since no small city applied, the pilot project went unrewarded. Rules are rules.
“When Redmond didn’t get a project, they were kind of bummed,” Zika said. “Everybody was saying it was a good project. Everyone wanted more affordable housing.”
This was not the outcome anyone had in mind. Redmond liked the Redmond plan. Deschutes County liked it. The state’s land use officials liked it. The Legislature liked it. So did the governor.
Redmond Mayor George Endicott said Tuesday that finding a fix to get the city’s project retroactively approved seemed logical.
“We started contacting folks in Salem,” Endicott said. “There wasn’t any opposition. We though we had a good chance. But it wasn’t a sure thing. You never know until you know.”
So, House Bill 2336 was introduced at the beginning of the 2019 session. It added two key pieces of language amending the original program:
1. If no small city submitted a proposal, the second award could go to a larger city.
2. It restricted projects to those “eligible for selection on or before” Aug. 17, 2018.
Only one city met both criteria: Redmond.
Zika, Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, plus Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, gave a united local legislative front to the effort. Rep. Duane Stark, R-Klamath Falls, signed on as a chief co-sponsor.
Knowing that Redmond is a largely Republican area in a state where Democrats hold the governor’s office and large majorities in the House and Senate, efforts were made to reach across the political aisle for support.
Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton agreed to be the Democratic point man in the House effort. Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, chair of the Senate Committee On Environment and Natural Resources, became a chief co-sponsor. Twelve other lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans, House members and senators — signed on as secondary co-sponsors.
All the prep work made for a smooth path through the Legislature. The bill passed the House unanimously. It passed the Senate unanimously. It was signed Tuesday by Gov. Brown.
So, instead of a bunch of blueprints getting thrown into the trash, Redmond is now on the fast track to building the proposed 485-unit Skyline Village development, with a 50-50 mix of affordable and market-priced homes. The project covers about 40 acres.
“That’s outstanding — that’s the word, outstanding,” Endicott said when told Tuesday that Brown had signed the bill.
After the Legislature adjourns, the Redmond plan will come back before the Land Conservation and Development Commission for formal approval. Endicott estimated there will be another year of planning before work begins. The best-case scenario would have residents moving into the units perhaps as early as the autumn of 2021.
It won’t solve Deschutes County’s housing woes, but it’s good to have something unique in the pipeline, supporters of HB 2336 said.
“Redmond families are desperate for a place to live that they can afford.,” Zika said.
— Reporter: 541-640-2750, email@example.com