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Headwaters of the Amazon Saved, Again

Saving the Amazon sounds like a project for South America, not south Eugene, but local conservationists and land use advocates have long been fighting proposed development in the headwaters of Amazon Creek in Eugene’s south hills. They say the creek is Eugene’s primary watershed, covering about 60 percent of the city’s area. This week Southeast Neighbors announced that an independent land use hearings official in Eugene has rejected a proposal to construct the 75-lot Deerbrook PUD (planned unit development) in the sensitive Amazon headwaters.

According to Dan Snyder, attorney for Southeast Neighbors, this is the fourth time developers have sought to construct homes on the property, located south and west of Martin Street at West Amazon Drive. He says that there are too many inherent problems with developing the property, from the presence of the headwaters to the steep slopes. Snyder says another key point is that “it is the Amazon headwaters, an outstanding natural resource that the city should be protecting, not turning over to the developers to turn into upper-scale homes.” 

Kevin Matthews of Southeast Neighbors says the group won on the issue of not allowing development on slopes greater than 20 percent, but he notes that other problems with the site, in addition to possible earthflows (a type of landslide), include public utility easements and protectedstream corridors. Matthews says, “It’s pretty obvious that 75 lots and a whole bunch of units on this site would increase the stormwater flows in Amazon Creek.” It’s not adequate for the developer to say they will meet the code later, he says. The Eugene staff report on the PUD lists Martin and Leslie Beverly, West Creek LLC and South Park Associates LLC as the applicants, and the property has also been referred to as the Beverly property. Matthews says city staff had conditionally approved the intensive development. 

This is the first time a developer has tried to use something called “needed housing” provisions in the Eugene land use code. The provisions say that only clear and objective standards can be applied to a development application. In his findings supporting denial of the application, the hearings official found that a code provision prohibiting development on slopes greater than 20 percent is indeed clear and objective. The developer used a different measurement to argue that the slopes were less than 20 percent. The way the developer measured by averaging the 26-acre site, “you could put a mountain in the middle and the slopes would be less than 20 percent,” Snyder says.

Another issue the hearings official ruled on is that the developer changed the application from a 75-lot application to a 47-lot application, Snyder says. He says that runs afoul of community involvement criteria for the code as Southeast Neighbors didn’t have input on the substantially different 47-lot application. 

The area is known as the headwaters “keystone,” according to Matthews, because it is the last remaining undeveloped place where an ecological corridor can be saved and restored that connects the Amazon Creek headwaters natural areas with the Amazon Greenway that winds through the heart of the city.