By: Jason Williams
When the residents at Willamette Oaks first heard that a new development would be constructed next to their campus on Alexander Loop, they were shocked to learn that the new multi-family development could include up to 1182 new apartment with the potential to double population density on Goodpasture Island Road alone.
“It seems to me as if there are some preconceived conclusions about building and it has to do with the overall city’s approach brought about by leadership of in-growth,” says Charlie Cole, President of the Resident Association at the retirement community. Cole considers few successes in his fight against the future development, but thinks that the developers response was at least on track with some of their desires.
Portland developer Brian Keys is preparing to move ahead with much smaller plans to construct a 583-unit apartment complex and retirement community on 23 acres of land he purchased from Peacehealth Inc. Plans also include a small commercial building that will include small stores or eateries that residents and neighbors can enjoy.
“I see development as part of living in a city, you have to expect it, you have to adapt, cope with it, and rather than to go back and try to change the rules or regulations that were put in place in year’s past you have to get involved in the future,” says Cal Young Neighborhood Association President Tonya Spears, who says that this is her opinion and not necessarily shared among everyone in the neighborhood.
The apartment complex, designed by Portland’s Myhre Group Architects will include a variety of modern apartments with a similar look and feel to Crescent Village, a planned unit development on Crescent Avenue designed by the same firm. While much of the concern is focused on the sheer size and scale of the project the designs have never come into question.
“I’ve seen the designs, I love it,” says Spears, “I think they are trying to be sensitive. They are working within the rules, and they’ve cut back on some of their plans because of complaints. I think they’ve done enough.”
The land, bordered by Willamette Oaks, the Willamette River, Delta Ponds and the River Island Estates Condominiums as well as Goodpasture Island Road is being rezoned to a higher density residential to keep the development opportunities for the future. City of Eugene planner Steve Ochs, who has worked on the project since it began sees this development as fulfilling goals set forth by the city.
“The city really looked at a good place for in-fill. It’s kind of interesting now because we are going through the Envision Eugene process now which is looking at (expanding) the urban growth boundary. The city was really hoping to get density in places like this,” says Ochs.
Envision Eugene is the name of a task force that is working to create a new comprehensive plan outlining the growth goals of the city for the next 20 years.
“Before we can consider expanding the urban growth boundary, we must complete an analysis of ways to develop more efficiently with our current boundary,” according to the Envision Eugene page on the city’s website.
Mayor Kitty Piercy says that estimates have Eugene growing by nearly 32,000 people in the same time span and the Goodpasture development fits into the goals of being able to expand within the borders of our urban growth boundary.
“That area (the Goodpasture Road area) of the community is another one of those places where people who are there are saying, ‘How many more people can we take living in this area? Is it going to interfere with the environment that we are used to living in?’ There are those real questions about the tensions between trying to accommodate growth, trying to live more densely and the impact on folks who say ‘I like it the way it is, I don’t want it to get more crowded,’” says Mayor Piercy.
Piercy is an advocate for more dense living, living closer to where you can work and play to lower the impact on the environment and lower the amount that people have to drive.
It’s these impacts on the environment and traffic that the Envision Eugene team will be addressing as they move forward in development plans for the next 20 years but it is also something that the Goodpasture developers are addressing now with their current project.
The developers have been kept busy, keeping the project updated with changes that have come to light through multiple appeals processes over the years. In addition to reducing the overall size of the development, they also have agreed to spend $2 million to build a new bridge over Delta Highway at Goodpasture Island Road, bringing the overpass to a four lane bridge that will handle several years of future traffic concerns.
Developers have also been busy adapting their plans for environmental concerns; adding an interpretive center and short fencing to protect the turtle habitat that is between their property and Delta Ponds. Their largest building, a retirement home, is also being built fifty feet further back from any neighboring properties to respect the Willamette Greenway and avoid further complicating the application process.
The next step in the process for the developers and for Willamette Oaks are further appeals. City planners expect approval for the project within the next eight to ten months with construction starting soon after.
The biggest concern at this point for Cole and the residents of Willamette Oaks is not the development but the need to increase zoning density of the area from the smaller r-2 zoning to the denser r-3 zoning that they see as unnecessary. Cole worries that because there are no other r-3 zones in the area, the rezoning for future growth could damage the integrity of the neighborhood.
“I don’t think we want to stop the developer,” says Cole, “We’re rational and we know that it’s illogical in our metropolitan area to have this much good vacant land sitting idle in the middle of the city undeveloped. We fully expect for development to occur out there and we encourage development to occur, it’s just that we want it to be rational.”
Willamette Oaks President sees Goodpasture development as inevitable, but worries it is still too big.
Sitting in his bottom floor apartment, Charlie Cole has an envious view; a view that could soon disappear as developers continue to move forward with their plans to build a new multi-family community just a few hundred feet from his patio door.
The 81-year-old Cole is the President of the Resident Association at Willamette Oaks Retirement and he has been an ardent voice in opposition to a new 583 unit apartment complex planned for 23 acres of empty land that surrounds the place Cole has called home for the last decade.
Cole has been a very vocal spokesperson for the residents of Willamette Oaks about their displeasure of the planned development size and what he thinks is an apparent lack of thought toward the environmental impacts that the development will bring to an already densely populated part of Eugene. He has also voiced concerns about the traffic being unsafe for the older residents that call and will be calling Goodpasture Island their home.
Cole is a longtime resident of Eugene and Springfield. He graduated from Springfield High School when the school was still on Mill street, where the District Office is now. After high school, Cole went to Oregon Statue University and then moved on to a career in the United States Navy where he serves as an officer for 30 years. After retiring from the military he knew immediately where he wanted to go, back to Eugene, the place he called home for so many years. After Cole and his wife Nancy moved back to Eugene he would become a director at the school of Business at the University of Oregon.
“We moved back to Eugene because I was related to half the town, so it just seemed right,” joked Cole who chose Willamette Oaks because it was in the same neighborhood that he and his wife have called home for the past 25 years. “We watched Willamette Oaks be built,” says Cole.
Cole has a view of the Coburg Hills, the Delta Ponds and hundreds of birds that fly by his apartment window everyday with nothing there to block his view. “There is excellent management, very comfortable quarters, and well taken care of grounds as well as a friendly group of residents that are a larger family,” says Cole.
Cole has taken an active role in opposing the scale of the planned unit development that will be rising in his backyard.
“The first issue is really a lack of understanding of why there is a need to change from zone r-2 to r-3. The planned unit development that the developer has submitted could have been done under r-2 and the concerns about r-3 are that down the road…it could allow considerably more development.” says Cole.
At this point Cole sees the development as inevitable but sees the zone change as unnecessary due to lack of access and lack of general amenities. Cole loves the location though and sees the developer making adjustments that are fair in his eyes, but still would like to see it get even smaller and for the zone changes to not be allowed.
“This is a rather attractive area of Eugene and we don’t see the need to overbuild,” says Cole.
Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy answers questions about development, urban growth in Eugene’s future.Transcribed is just a small portion of the entire 26 minute interview with the Mayor, if you would like to listen to the entire interview just push the play button below.
Jason: So the City is in the process of adopting a new comprehensive plan that will expand the Urban Growth Boundary and give Eugene a plan for the next 20 years worth of growth, can you explain that process and tell us what the city has learned by going through it?
Kitty: Well we’re not through, we’re just at sort of the beginning steps of it and what I would say right off the bat is, we are looking at how we will accommodate growth and population that’s been predicted, about 32,000 people in the next 20 years. Now whether that requires an expansion of the UGB or we can find them space within the current UGB or some combination we don’t have that answer yet, we’re looking. So, we’ve been gathering data to base our work on and as I said gotten the population prediction that we are supposed to use to work on.
And then we’ve had some community meetings to talk about this with people in the community and about what they would like have happen to the community and then we had a three day workshop with people who I would say are, historically at odds over this. A portion of them are people that are pretty committed to staying within our current urban growth boundary and a portion of them are people who believe that we really do need to expand. And we brought those people together to have this conversation, because we think if we do what we typically do people will just lock down in these two camps and they will fight each other and we’d rather they had a new conversation. We’d rather they had a conversation about what do you want our community to be in the future and what do we need to do to get there together and how can we best accommodate that? So that its not a matter of, do you want to expand or o you want to stay in? It’s a matter of if we’re gonna have this kind of community, how are we gonna make that happen?
So that conversation, we went through a facilitated three day meeting with those folks where they brought out all of their worst fears and their best hopes. And they were sort of moving us all through a process of OK, let’s look at all those things and lets see with the information and the data that we have what do we think is the best way we can accommodate the growth that we can expect and alleviate the fears that we have and move toward our best hopes for our community.
Jason: Do you see Eugene as growing up or out?
Kitty: I don’t know yet if we have to go out, I do definitely think that we need to go up. I think if you look at, and it’s not an easy thing to do because we have a long history of being a fairly flat community and people are used to big yards and a lot of space to be in. We’ve been pushing and had as part of our growth management policies for a number of years that we would try to live more densely to keep from having to expand out and we would stay within our urban growth boundary as long as we could to protect the forest and farm lands around us. Um, in our efforts to do that, people have been feeling a lot of strain, in older neighborhoods people don’t want to lose the character of their neighborhoods. So we’ve been working on two things that we call infill compatibility and opportunity siting and literally hundreds of people have been vested in.
If we’re going to have more dense growth in neighborhoods, where is that going to be where it wouldn’t have a bad and negative effect on the character of the neighborhoods the way your neighborhood feels, ruin the quality of life for people in those neighborhoods and still achieve some at least some of the density goals that we have. Then, are there places that are real opportunities for multi-use housing and ways to take on broader numbers of growth and how far will that take us and does that take us far enough and if it can’t be accommodated that way then we have to have a conversation if we’re gonna expand, how would we do that in a way that preserves the things that we care so much about on the outside of our urban growth boundary and that’s a big discussion that’s still ahead of us.
Another piece of that that we have not allowed to have before, maybe we will this time, I don’t know, is there are things within our Urban Growth Boundary right now that we want to save and do you wanna trade something that’s out for something that’s in? Like do you have class 1 farmland that’s within our Urban area that you wanna preserve and is there some less important land outside that you might wanna make available for housing and industrial and commercial purposes. So, as you see its a very complicated but important and actually pretty exciting thing that we have underway right now.
Jason: What types of development in that overall picture do you see as the most important?
Kitty: Well I think the purpose of it is; number one, where are you gonna have people live and how your gonna have them live within our community. And we have a very high quality of life here and a really lovely livability and a nice environment, so people are gonna want to do this in a way that doesn’t take away from what we have and maybe can even enhance it. That’s the central thing, then right beyond that people have to have jobs and so then your talking about commercial and industrial space and you’ve gotta be sure you have enough of that.
So we were only required to do the residential look but we are doing the whole comprehensive look cause we think one thing affects the other and we should look at all of it. And we want to look at the national resources we have that are available that we need to protect too, so all those things together create the more comprehensive picture of, what is it that we really need to protect and preserve and what is it that we need to develop and grow and still keep the character of this place that we love and call home and not become anyplace USA with just one community running into the next and into the next and into the next and the longer we’re here the harder that gets.