We kicked off this autumnal week with a joint session with the Planning Commission and rounded out our sessions with two significant investments in our downtown.
The Joint Session was intended to strengthen the communication and understanding between Council and the Planning Commissioners particularly with respect to the development of Eugene’s code changes to comply with HB 2001. That 2019 legislation requires that the City adjust our residential zoning code to enable duplexes to be built on any lot that is zoned for single family residential housing; and to permit triplexes, fourplexes, cottage clusters and townhomes in areas zoned for residential use. The City must approve the code amendments by June 30, 2022 or the State’s model code will be implemented.
The Planning Commission and Planning Staff conducted more extensive outreach than ever before to educate the public about this process for increasing the quantity and diversity of housing in the community, and to gauge their priorities. This included a survey with 741 responses, about one third of which were renters; roundtable discussions with board and commission members, equity panelists, and other community partners; and a “Healthy Democracy” panel that brought 29 voices to the table representing groups who aren’t historically represented in these civic conversations.
Staff drafted a plan that reflects the input from that public engagement and the lengthy discussions of the Planning Commission over the past many months. Given the model code, the question to ask is “where does the city have discretion and how do we want to use that discretion, particularly in light of the public engagement input?” That input has urged the City to go beyond the minimum required by the state and include code that would either encourage or incentivize the construction of more housing, and particularly housing that people can afford. Some comments that we have received object to HB 2001 because it does not ensure that this new housing will be affordable. Code elements like reduced parking, lot size and higher buildings can all reduce costs – and people also object to those measures. It’s a balancing act. I encourage you to attend the third and final listening session on October 26th to learn more.
On Wednesday, Council voted to move forward on two investments downtown: 1059 Willamette and the Willamette connection between the Hult Center and Graduate Hotel. The re-development of the former LCC building at 1059 Willamette is a mixed-use apartment building. Converting this unsightly lot into housing has been a Council priority for Urban Renewal funds and Wednesday’s meeting took the next critical step in approving the deal points between the City and the developers, deChase Miksis and Edlen & Company. Of the 129 units, 66 will be for households with incomes up to 80% of the Average Median Income (AMI). The City used federal Community Development Block Grant funds to purchase the building which require that 51% of the units be affordable for 20 years. The developers have committed to 35 years of affordability; are coordinating with Cornerstone Community Housing to provide services; dedicated 10 units to survivors of domestic violence in partnership with the Hope & Safety Alliance (formerly Womenspace); and are incorporating cost-effective green building measures to be certified under the LEED Multifamily program. As required by the federal support, the units must be ready for occupancy by April 30, 2025.
In a second decision, Council approved plans to move forward with the first phase of the open space renovation of the Willamette Connection. This renovation was first recommended by the Projects for Public Spaces in 2017 and is one of four Open Space projects included in the Downtown Urban Renewal Plan approved by Council in 2016. The connection will be improved for accessibility, visibility and safety and is seen as an important link between the core downtown and the redeveloped 5th St. Market area. Council also approved funding the construction of permanent bathrooms on the Park Blocks, addressing a long-standing deficiency in our downtown. All of this complements other development in our urban core including the construction of the permanent farmers market, the investment in high speed internet, and the Riverfront development.
Finally, I want to reinforce a few public health messages. First, the community is facing a dire shortage of blood. I donated last week – it took less than an hour and literally saves lives. Please make an appointment: online https://schedule.bloodworksnw.org/ or call 541-484-9111.
Second, please a get a flu shot! And third, Lane County is set to offer boosters for all COVID vaccines. We’re still in the pandemic and I encourage you to stay safe and protect everyone around you by getting vaccinated and wearing a mask. Thank you.