Next steps

City departments are working on a public outreach process that they’ll present to the Bend Planning Commission and the City Council in the coming months.

In April of 2016, developers proposed building a 118-unit apartment complex along Reed Lane west of the Bend Parkway.

Nearly two years later, they haven’t broken ground on the project, despite the city’s crippling housing shortage.

Almost a year of that time was spent mired in appeals and public arguments about whether to rezone the property to match the city’s comprehensive plan. While developers ultimately have to follow the comprehensive plan when building, zoning also must align before construction can start. City policy calls for piecemeal zoning-change hearings whenever development is proposed, adding extra time and costs to construction in some parts of town at a time when Bend is struggling to build enough homes to meet the demands of a rapidly growing population.

“It delayed a multifamily housing project, an apartment complex, for over a year,” Bend Planning Manager Colin Stephens said.

Now, the city of Bend is looking for ways to efficiently align the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning map. Last week, the Bend City Council voted 5-2 to move toward rezoning every mismatched property in the city at the same time. But neighborhood associations and a conservation group have mobilized against the idea, saying it would limit public input.

Lack of alignment

Most Bend residents can look up their neighborhood on Deschutes County’s interactive map and get a sense of what development could look like from the area’s zoning.

But on about 2,600 acres — 12 percent of total land in city limits — the zoning map doesn’t match up with Bend’s comprehensive plan.

The mismatched land includes several areas throughout Bend where residents would believe they live in a standard-density residential area, but the city’s comprehensive plan calls for more homes per acre.

“It just sets up this confusion in certain areas,” Stephens said.

Zoning changes to some lots are less controversial than others — few people are likely to fight changing the zoning of Pilot Butte State Park from residential to public facilities, for instance. But more than 570 acres of residential land in the city are zoned for a different density than the plan calls for, and the vast majority of those acres will be zoned for higher density when the two plans align.

A 1975 Oregon Supreme Court decision requires that cities match their zoning to their comprehensive plans, although the decision doesn’t set any time frame for doing so. Still, Stephens said, the case law and Oregon’s revised statutes make it clear that the comprehensive plan rules.

“It’s not an aspirational document,” he said. “It’s an overarching land-use document that must be followed.”

Matching the maps

Bend adopted its comprehensive plan in 1998, but it wasn’t able to update its whole zoning map at that time.

Some land was rezoned during Bend’s most recent urban growth boundary expansion, the process by which Oregon cities receive permission from the state to annex more land for development. But for the most part, developing or redeveloping land in the conflicted areas requires an additional public hearing process to change zoning, Bend Community Development Director Russ Grayson said.

“This is another step that a developer has to go through to bring a project online, whether it’s an affordable housing project or an apartment project,” Grayson said.

Developers have to pay $6,000 in city fees for the public hearing process. The fees help pay for staff time, along with the $200 per hour Bend pays the independent land use attorneys who serve as hearings officers.

Once developers apply for a zoning change, the city notifies neighborhood associations and surrounding neighbors and schedules a public hearing. The hearings officer makes a decision on the zoning change, which can be appealed to the city or the state Land Use Board of Appeals.

These hearings often seem to create a false expectation that a zone change hearing could stop a planned use, Stephens said. Hearings officers are limited to considering whether the zoning change will bring the map into alignment with the comprehensive plan and whether public facilities including sewer, water and roads are adequate to serve the proposed development.

“A majority of the testimony is not germane to the criteria,” he said. “It’s very frustrating for people who take time out of their day to come and speak at a public hearing, and they’re basically told the hearings officer can’t consider what they’re saying.”

City councilor Justin Livingston, the former chairman of the Old Farm Neighborhood Association, said he saw this type of frustration regularly while meeting with developers and neighborhood association members.

“Quite often, the neighbors think they can have an impact, but there’s only two really simple criteria,” he said. “They are quite disappointed when they don’t get to say ‘well, we don’t really think your traffic study’s adequate’ or ‘we wanted you to do XYZ.’”

The rezoning process typically takes several months, and the city can spend $1,000 to more than $5,000 on hearings officers, Stephens said. Once a zoning change is approved, a site review process that also considers public facilities starts.

While the zoning change process may be redundant, it’s always been good for neighbors who will be directly affected by development, said Chad Sage, chairman of the Century West Neighborhood Association. Sage and the leaders of 10 of Bend’s 12 active neighborhood associations signed a letter urging the City Council to continue allowing Bend residents to comment on rezoning applications on a case-by-case basis.

“It might come across as mechanical,” Sage said. “To not have it, in my opinion, is a greater jeopardy, and yes, I know that it results in more staff time.”

Public involvement

Neighborhood association members and Central Oregon LandWatch, a conservation group that supports higher density in some areas of Bend but not in many neighborhoods, stressed the need for public involvement in land-use decisions in their letters and spoken comments to the City Council. The council, likewise, agreed to move toward citywide rezoning with “robust” public participation.

Paul Dewey, executive director of Central Oregon LandWatch, said one of the only rights neighborhoods have left is public hearings. If the city moves toward rezoning all land that doesn’t match the comprehensive plan, neighborhoods would lose that right, he said.

“You don’t change a 20-plus-year policy about public process and call it housecleaning,” he said.

City employees talk about residents as though they’re “uneducated and uninformed,” Dewey said.

“The excuse that it’s better not to have people testify because they would be frustrated; that’s an amazing concept,” he said.

While neighbors can’t stop zoning changes, the ability to delay the development process through public hearings and appeals can help them extract concessions from developers, Councilor Bill Moseley said.

“Developers do work with people when there’s delay involved,” he said. “There is some leverage. It’s not a simple legal answer, yes or no.”

Although written comments can be submitted at any time, zone change hearings are often held on weekday mornings. It gives some residents an advantage over others, Mayor Casey Roats said.

“Certain parts of town with the resources and time would sure be able to extract a lot more concessions than others,” Roats said.

The current piecemeal hearings give people the expectation that they can have an impact the law says they can’t actually have, said Al Johnson, a retired land use attorney.

Rezoning all of the land in question will help the city of Bend use land more efficiently and be prepared when it starts its next urban growth boundary expansion in a few years, he said.

“It’s much healthier to have the single big discussion and have everyone be unhappy all at once,” he said.


Moey Newbold, LandWatch’s director of urban planning, said the group reached out to neighborhood associations when it saw the rezoning on a city work session agenda and was asked to provide talking points. Many of these center around Bend’s most recent urban growth boundary expansion, which LandWatch supported after first vehemently opposing an initial plan that would have added thousands more acres to city limits.

At least one neighborhood association sent those Central Oregon LandWatch talking points to its members. A Bulletin review of public letters submitted to the city found verbatim language from the talking points in letters from several homeowners in the River West and Awbrey Butte neighborhoods.

Many of LandWatch’s talking points about the urban growth boundary expansion and land-use law were incorrect, Stephens said. Landowners cannot build according to current zoning, as LandWatch argued, and the city assumed the comprehensive plan and zoning map would be aligned when calculating how much land Bend would need to add to keep pace with growth, he said.

LandWatch contends the urban growth boundary process didn’t rely on additional rezoning to meet its housing goals, and Dewey said the city’s now trying to change the urban growth boundary compromise.

“At least let the ink dry on the agreement before you change it,” he said.

Housing needs

Aligning the zoning map and comprehensive plan was also one of 12 recommendations released last summer from a Bend 2030 work group that looked at ways to add housing for families making between $40,000 and $90,000 a year. All members of the work group agreed to the recommendations, said Jillian Taylor, acting executive director of the nonprofit organization.

The city approved one recommendation — allowing less open space at apartment complexes near parks — and is looking at several others. The work group believed aligning the comprehensive plan and zoning map would be less controversial than other changes, Taylor said.

“It would eliminate expense and timing and speed up development,” she said.

Along with the Reed Lane apartment complex that was delayed for a year by a zoning change, letters to the city describe houses that haven’t been built because the two maps don’t match. In one, a woman who bought a small home last year on two lots near the Revere Avenue parkway exit wrote that she’s been waiting on a city zoning change to build other small homes on the property.

Moving forward with citywide rezoning is one way for the City Council to help with Bend’s housing crisis, Mayor pro tem Sally Russell said.

“If we need affordable housing, and we want things to happen, we’ve got to be aware of all the elements, and this is one of them that really slows us down,” Russell said.

—  Reporter: 541-633-2160;