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Future of the South Willamette Re-Zoning in Question

Is the South Willamette Special Area Zone, the controversial plan to change the zoning of the buildings around Willamette Street from 23nd to 32rd avenues, “an unlawful bait-and-switch money-making scam”?

That’s the question Brian Wanty asks in a recent email to the mayor, Eugene City Council and planners. He says the city’s plan for a Multimodal Mixed Use Area within the SW-SAZ does not comply with state planning requirements. 

The SW-SAZ looks to be up in the air right now: Terri Harding, who leads the city’s long-range planning team, told the Friendly Area Neighbors that: “Sometimes, we make mistakes. The South Willamette Special Area zone is one of those times.” 

Mayor Kitty Piercy in an April 22 email to the city manager and City Council writes, “I applaud our planners for having some forthright and honest conversations with neighborhoods about what could have been done better.” Piercy continues, “I intend to try to help us all move forward — to get unstuck. I am not suggesting revisiting the former rezone proposal. I am suggesting pressing a restart button on the community process with some changes.”

Zack Mittge of Hutchinson Cox attorneys, with Wanty as his client, sent a letter April 1 to the City Council commenting on the SW-SAZ. The letter says the plan is not a Multimodal Mixed Use Area (MMA) and cannot be approved consistently with Statewide Planning Goal 12 and the Oregon Transportation Ruling Plan.

A Multimodal Mixed Use Area has a denser level of development of a variety of commercial and residential uses than in surrounding areas and “an understanding that increased automobile congestion within and around the MMA is accepted as a potential trade-off,” according to the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Mittge points out that the Multimodal Mixed-Use Area the city had in mind for the SW-SAZ requires “wide sidewalks and other features, including pedestrian-oriented street crossing, street trees, pedestrian-scale lighting and on-street parking.” Wanty expands on this in an April 26 email to the city, writing, “if the SW-SAZ includes the MMA designation, all new development would be subject to the state regulations. Therefore, the code amendments that make the pedestrian amenities optional are unlawful and disqualify the SW-SAZ for the MMA designation.”

Wanty says, “So, this bait-and-switch scam has nothing to do with walkability and is really about maximizing tax and fee revenue to the city, and maximizing profits for developers and investment property owners.”

He says if the city goes forward with the plan, it is a recipe for filings with the state Land Use Board of Appeals “decades into the future.”

As of April 26, the city’s land use application details webpage still lists the SW-SAZ as “recommended approved.” Wanty asks, “When will this be changed to ‘application withdrawn?’”

Piercy tells EW that the City Council has received Wanty’s email. She says after her communication in regard to hitting the “restart button” on SW-SAZ, Councilor Brown submitted a process proposal for consideration. Piercy will “schedule a meeting for discussion of this proposal and other considerations we have been asked about.”