Get ready to grow. Portland is focusing on infill to meet its growing population, but Eugene is looking to expand its city limits in the next few years. The sprawl is likely to happen despite the city’s commitment to make Eugene more bike and pedestrian friendly.
Five years of community input and technical analysis have led to Envision Eugene expansion plans that appear to be favored by the city administration and the majority on the council, including Mayor Kitty Piercy.
But don’t expect anti-sprawl advocates, or even some council members, to remain quiet when the proposals go public beginning next week. See times and places below.
Some infill elements are in the Envision Eugene plan, but expanding the urban growth boundary (UGB) for residential and industrial development is controversial since Eugene already has a low population density and hundreds of acres of undeveloped industrial land.
Expansion leads to more infrastructure, more vehicle miles traveled, more police and fire services, etc., and system development charges never cover the hidden costs, according to Eben Fodor of Eugene, author of Better Not Bigger — How to Take Control of Urban Growth and Improve Your Community. Fodor is concerned about plans to develop the LCC basin and its impact on traffic at 30th and Hilyard, which is already at capacity. City services will cost about $45,000 per home, not counting transportation-related costs, he says.
Noted Portland urban planner and consultant John Fregonese says he has “observed Eugene my whole career and for a great town they are really underperforming — probably because of fear. The key to overcoming that is to start where there’s consensus and move out as experience grows.”
Fregonese says some UGB expansion is acceptable, but Portland has welcomed infill “quite a lot more” than Eugene, in part because of Portland’s inner-city decline in the late 1980s and ’90s. “Infill has really transformed the city’s prospects,” he says.
Infill works when an area of a city is “going downhill,” Fregonese says, or a city has “a great plan that doesn’t rely on grandiose ideas or heavy subsidy,” and “steady political leadership provides a stable hand and resists the ‘prairie fire’ mentality that we are all going to die if someone infills a three-story mixed use building.”
Councilor Betty Taylor opposes expansion of the UGB and says the destruction of prime farmland for industry “is in direct contradiction of our avowed interest in food security and reduction of the carbon footprint,” and “we could easily change the ratio of single-family to multi-family and eliminate the need” to expand housing land. She does favor UGB expansion for Santa Clara Park.
Councilor George Brown agrees, saying he’s “very skeptical of the ‘need’ to expand the UGB for single-family housing. More disturbing is the push to cover up productive farmland with industrial plants north of Clear Lake Road. This area is comprised of mostly Class 1 and Class 2 soils, among the very best quality soils in the entire world,” and they make our valley famous for its agricultural products. “When you pave them over with asphalt and concrete, they are gone forever, further diminishing our ability to achieve local food security.”
Taylor adds that “while we may not be able to stop growth, we should not encourage growth. There is a limit to the capacity of the airshed, as well as the watershed, to sustain healthy conditions for human beings.”
Envision Eugene recommendations will be presented at an open house from 4 to 6 pm Tuesday, Jan. 13, at the Atrium lobby, 99 W. 10th Ave., and at a public forum at 7:30 pm Tuesday, Jan. 20, at Harris Hall, 125 E. 8th Ave. The council is planning a work session on the topic Jan. 28 followed by more hearings, including before the Lane County Commission. See envisioneugene.org regarding the proposals.