Housing bill just for Bend could spur redevelopment on Third Street

The Franklin Crossing building in downtown Bend is a mix of commercial and residential. A House bill would allow Bend to build similar-looking mixed-use projects in the city. (Bulletin file photo)

SALEM — A late-night meeting, a “gut-and-stuff,” bipartisan support and bureaucratic help have combined to give a unique housing bill for Bend a shot at becoming law in the waning days of the 2019 Legislature.

The House Committee on Rules voted 6-1 on Tuesday to send House Bill 3450 to the House floor for a possible vote later this week or early next week. The legislation authored by Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, could allow the city of Bend to redevelop older strip malls in commercial areas into hybrid buildings with shops on the ground floor and apartments in the floors above. The area most often discussed as a candidate for the project is older portions of Third Street.

“We have a need for housing supply, and it’s very difficult to do that with our (urban growth boundary) laws and our restrictive land use policies that protect the beauty of our state,” Helt said Monday. “Our prices have been skyrocketing in Bend. Housing prices went up 9.4% last year alone.”

Tuesday’s vote was the culmination of 24 hours of exhaustive effort to keep the Bend bill from being derailed by Monday’s runaway House floor debate on the carbon-cap bill.

The House Committee on Rules had scheduled a public hearing, consideration of amendments and a final vote for Monday at 3 p.m. But the carbon-cap debate, which started at 2 p.m., lasted for more than six hours. It was 8 p.m. when it passed and the House adjourned.

Bleary-eyed House members headed home — except for the House Committee on Rules, which decided to hold the long-­delayed afternoon hearing. At 10 p.m., Helt and city of Bend lobbyist Erik Kancler testified in support of the redevelopment bill.

Kancler told the committee the land in Bend would remain zoned for commercial use, but with housing layered in.

“While we’re talking about a mixed-use development, we’re not talking about mixed-use zoning,” Kancler testified. “In a mixed-use zone, a developer could propose an entirely residential project, an entirely commercial project or something in between.”

Kancler said the housing would support businesses that might otherwise struggle with traditional drive-up-and-park stores.

“In a way, what we are doing is encouraging residential units near transit stops, near stores, near houses, near jobs,” Kancler said. “We are getting people on their feet, getting people on their bike and, most important, getting them into public transit.”

The exhausted committee members opted to hold off on a vote until the next day, but the late-night hearing kept the bill on a plausible timetable to get through the House and Senate before adjournment.

The bill is a reworked idea that initially fell flat with Democrats. Helt had proposed legislation that would help Bend, but was written broadly enough that it could be implemented anywhere in the state. Some top Democrats balked at the idea, saying what might work in Bend could damage neighborhoods in other cities with different housing and business issues.

Committee Chairman Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, held out some hope. He said Bend was a unique situation — the fourth-fastest-growing city in the United States, but far from any metropolitan areas. Holvey said he usually opposed the idea of “one-off” state legislation dealing with local issues, but since the land use was so tied up with state law, he was open to the idea.

Kancler said he worked with the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development to meet state requirements while giving Bend as much flexibility on the possible projects as possible.

“I give a ton of credit to the agency for working with us on an idea that we came up with only a couple months ago to get us to the point we’re at now,” Kancler said.

HB 3450 advocates gave the bill a tighter focus on Bend alone. Helt proposed a final “gut-and-stuff,” in which the contents of a bill are completely replaced by new language of the amendment. Without specifically naming Bend, the amendment had restrictions on location, size and other factors that only fit one city.

“This is, quite simply, a pilot opportunity that would be applied to the city of Bend,” Kancler said.

Helt said the state could weigh the results over the five years of the project and see if it should be implemented statewide.

The committee approved the amendment and the bill, sending it into the busy to-do list of legislation facing the House before it must adjourn no later than June 30. Even if the bill passes the House, it would have to be quick-marched through the Senate before time runs out.

— Reporter: 541-640-2750, gwarner@bendbulletin.com

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