Transforming Goshen, a small, unincorporated town south of Eugene off I-5 and Hwy 58, was designated as a specific goal for 2012 by the Lane County Board of Commissioners in this year’s State of the County Address, and now Goshen has been declared a “Regionally Significant Industrial Area” (RSI) by the Oregon Economic Revitalization and Review Council.
Lane County has been pushing hard and fast to have Goshen rezoned and revamped into an industrial park. The county is calling it the GREAT Plan — Goshen Region Employment and Transition Plan — but its greatness is in dispute by those concerned about land use issues and the use of public funds.
According to Commissioner Faye Stewart in a press release, “For me, the designation is a big leap forward in seeing Goshen redeveloped and being able to offer new job opportunities for our citizens.” But according to Mia Nelson of 1000 Friends of Oregon, Goshen may not be developable at all. The site includes nationally inventoried wetlands, which have restrictions on what can be built on them, but the county plans to wait until the point when development would actually occur for on-site wetland delineation, which would determine the exact boundaries.
Nelson says the county is doing it backwards — it should first check the wetlands designation and the infrastructure to see if Goshen is even developable, then go for the land use code change that it has been seeking along with the RSI designation. She questions, what if “ODOT [Oregon Department of Transportation] spends millions for infrastructure upgrades and then finds out Goshen is all wetlands and it won’t work?”
Nelson says that the RSI designation could help the county secure public funding for infrastructure for Goshen, such as improving the freeway access. She says when it comes to allocating federal transportation dollars, the county could argue the money should be spent on Goshen because it’s a regionally significant site, rather than a different project.
She points to a comment that Stewart made in the R-G in June: “He also said the county is determined not to use public money to pay for the redevelopment, requiring those who want to build on the site to add infrastructure as they make improvements.” Nelson points out that federal and state funds are still public money. A similar issue of public funding has arisen in the EmX bus rapid transit debate, in which opponents have questioned using public money — federal transportation dollars — for the project.
According to a Lane County spokesperson, “The citizens of Goshen have been concerned that they would be charged with helping pay for the upgrades, sewer, water, roads, etc. Commissioner Stewart has stated that Lane County doesn’t have the money to pay for the upgrades, and that grants, federal and state funds could help pay for the upgrades.”
Sewage is a big concern when it comes to developing Goshen as an industrial site. Goshen is not on the sewage system, and many are concerned that it is not a viable site for more septic tanks. Major landowners in the area include the McDougal Brothers, who own more than 114 acres, and Cone Investments owns about 72 acres.
“Can we just be honest?” Nelson asks. “This is going to take a ton of public money.”
If Goshen does get developed, and millions of dollars of public money are spent, Nelson says that something should be put in place to make sure the public gets the money back. She suggests putting a Local Improvement District in place, or a similar plan. An improvement district is when property owners share in the cost of transportation infrastructure improvements or other types of public improvements. If the property owners financially benefit from the public money spent, some of that money is then given back to the public so there is funding for future projects.
When asked if the county has such a plan in place, the spokesperson said, “The vision is that the developers’ investments will generate long-term private as well as public returns. Will the county put a Local Improvement District in place? This is a strategy that hasn’t been part of the Goshen Regional Economic and Transition Plan discussions yet.”
According to Nelson, the “taxpayers of Lane County are already spending money; they spent a lot of staff time on this. Fine, you need to do that to get something done.” But, she asks, what is the plan to recapture those funds?