The Bend Planning Commission shot down a zoning change that would have allowed Les Schwab Tire Centers to move into a block of Third Street that is already home to businesses and housing.

On Monday, the planning commission considered a proposal from Les Schwab to change the zone for one block situated between NE Third and Fourth streets to allow auto-­dependent uses, which include businesses like tire centers or car part stores. The change would officially take the block out of the Bend Central District — an area of town which is zoned to encourage more high-density, mixed development to promote growth — and allow the tire company to relocate there from its existing property at 105 NE Franklin Ave. and build a new building in the Bend Central District.

Greg Blackmore, a planner who represented Les Schwab, said approving the change would be a benefit because there would be an overall decrease in the amount of auto-related zoning in the Bend Central District — the new property would be about 1.5 acres smaller than the existing site.

The company sees the proposed new site as an opportunity to encourage economic development along the Third Street corridor, improve local streets and open up the site on Franklin Avenue for housing or other development near the entrance to downtown.

“(Les Schwab) wouldn’t proceed down this path if they didn’t think it was in the best interest of the community and the Bend Central District,” Blackmore said.

If permitted, the Les Schwab center would replace several existing buildings: Enterprise Rent-a-Car, the former Hardy’s Burgers & Ice Cream, Sangie Hair Spa, Bend Truck Toyz, Vintage Moon Antiques and a single-family residence.

But in a 5-1 vote Monday night, the planning commission denied the proposal, taking issue with the precedent that could be set by allowing individual businesses to request certain areas of town being removed from the Central District to accommodate their specific projects or uses.

“It is precedent-setting,” Commissioner Scott Winters said. “And it seems like a business getting to choose where the best location would be for them and disregarding (the) current zoning.”

Commissioners were also sympathetic to traffic and parking concerns raised by several residents who spoke against the project Monday.

Some residents argue allowing the tire center on Third Street would cause traffic issues in a congested area of town — especially near Bend High School.

“To me it’s just not safe,” said Roberta Olmstead, who lives in the area. “We already have plenty of traffic on Third Street as it is. … This is just going to make it worse.”

Others who live nearby worry about how the noise and commotion of having a tire service business would affect their quality of life and property values.

Blackmore argued that according to a traffic analysis, the traffic that would be generated is “significantly less” than what could be permitted on the site. The zone in this city block allows much denser — and much taller — development than what Les Schwab is proposing, he said.

“The (Bend Central District) encourages intense development, he said. “There is going to be congestion as this vision is carried out.”

But some residents, as well as Central Oregon LandWatch, argue keeping the block zoned for mixed uses like businesses and homes is crucial in order to revitalize this section of town.

Changing even one block is enough to degrade the community’s vision to revitalize the central district, said Anne Lake, who lives nearby.

“When the area was originally zoned mixed-use the neighbors, businesses, and other citizens in Bend were counting on the ‘Bend Central District’ to provide another desirable area to visit, shop, stop for a bite (to) eat, or perhaps establish an office space,” Lake wrote in an email to the commission. “Amending that original zone designation and providing a space for what was specifically not allowed will not only change the flavor of the area, but seems to me to be a disservice to all of us who live here.”

The City Council will hear the proposal and make a final decision later next month.

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

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