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The Keys to Capstone

As the City Council’s vote on the 10-year Multiple-Unit Property Tax Exemption (MUPTE) for the proposed 1,200-student Capstone project nears, Eugeneans are piping up about potential impacts on the livability of downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods. 

One of these elements is a plan to protect the residents of Olive Plaza. Barbara Goldberg lives in the 12-story apartment complex for low-income seniors, located next door to what could become housing for 1,200 college students. Goldberg stresses that she and her neighbors aren’t vilifying the “normal, exuberant behavior” of college students, but they fear that even after the 12-hour-day, six-day-per-week construction phase is over, the large-scale student housing is just “not a good match” for a building of elderly people, many of whom have compromised respiratory conditions or other health issues and can be unsteady on the sidewalks.

Goldberg says that if the Capstone project is built, it needs to be done in a way that recognizes the huge obstacles the neighboring seniors would face if forced to find other affordable housing. Goldberg suggests that air conditioners with HEPA filters would be a start during the construction phase, followed by the strict enforcement of noise issues and sidewalk rules prohibiting bikes and skateboards. “How can Capstone declare a successful project if we’re miserable?” she asks.

Sherrill Necessary, a downtown neighbor, supports the project with reservations, and says she’s heard similar concerns from other neighbors. “If you take care of Olive Plaza’s concerns, you’ve addressed the concerns of other residents,” she says.

Necessary says she likes the fact that the Capstone project will cover surface parking lots and add people to the area instead of cars, and she thinks retail will naturally follow the students into downtown. Still, she says that to make it a “good project for all,” the city has to learn from other communities and the West University neighborhood to prevent problems.

Paul Conte, a neighborhood advocate, says that amending the MUPTE and/or city code to include standards of facilities, video monitoring, staffing, lease terms would help protect the Capstone project’s neighbors, but to make it work, those standards “need to be legally enforceable.” He says other provisions might need to be made to prevent the expansion of the Barmuda Triangle into residential neighborhoods.

Jamin Aasum, an architect who lives in the South University neighborhood, says he’s concerned about the huge influx of students into downtown at once, especially when what Eugene is “longing for is a real downtown that caters to the whole community.” Aasum says he can’t imagine that this particular project would be in Eugene’s long-term plan.

“It’s another example of people wanting so much for downtown to be developed they just jump at anything and not really have a vision for what should be there in 20 or 30 years,” he says.

Zechariah Heck, a UO senior double majoring in political science and planning, public policy and management, says he can see the project revitalizing downtown Eugene and providing much-needed downtown housing, but he’s concerned that a student-only facility isn’t ideal.

“I think this project can be a net positive for the whole community, but with that said, there’s different ways that this could be going about,” Heck says, “and one would be just taking down the whole student housing and having the developer look for a focus on mixed housing, and that would alleviate concerns about having a monoculture.”

For more on Capstone and the MUPTE, see http://wkly.ws/19j and eugenecat.org