The Bend City Council’s direction to allow Woodriver Village to get an exemption from the city’s requirement for sidewalks collided with some baloney at the planning commission on Monday.

Woodriver Village has narrow, ponderosa-lined streets and few sidewalks. Putting in sidewalks might make things a bit safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, but it would tear up trees and arguably the very feel of the neighborhood. Some residents of the subdivision have appeared before councilors asking that Woodriver Village should be exempt from the requirement for sidewalks.

Bend’s sidewalk requirement gets technical. But basically if somebody in Bend wanted to add enough on to an existing home or demolish an old home and start over — and there is already an existing public sidewalk within “600 feet of the front property line on the same side of the street of any of the frontages, sidewalks must be constructed along all frontage(s) of the site.”

After considering different options, councilors asked the planning commission to work on a sidewalk exemption for Woodriver Village. The proposed exemption would waive the sidewalk requirement in the neighborhood and collect a payment to go into a fund to pay for sidewalks on more major routes through the subdivision.

Reasonable enough.

Planning commissioners made no final decision on Monday, though they did tick off objections and concerns. They worried about setting a precedent for sidewalk exemptions that other neighborhoods would want. There was concern that the city would be letting people down who want to walk or bike. And there was discussion that such an exemption would contradict the city’s 20-year transportation plan under development, which seems designed to make it easier for people to walk and bike.

There’s a bit of truth in all those arguments, though Woodriver Village residents are calling for this change. The subdivision’s streets are low-traffic enough to allow people to share the road. And the city should not have a one-size-must-fit-all transportation plan. Some neighborhoods have different needs. Smart planning doesn’t lump everyone in the city into the same box. Allowing reasonable exemptions that don’t undermine neighborhoods should be part of any good plan for Bend’s future.

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