Saturday, March 8, 2008

Eugene Downtown Zoning Review Project

Photo by Christopher Phan on Flickr

I attended the City of Eugene’s March 5th “info & input” session at the Eugene Public Library to primarily learn about the Downtown Zoning Review Project. The Downtown Zoning Review project was initiated to facilitate the type of development called for in the Downtown Plan, which was adopted in 2004. The City is dividing the project into two phases: The first phase of the project focuses on three topics: 1) how much density is required and how density is calculated, 2) limitations on surface parking, and 3) limitations on new residential structures. The second phase will focus on topics which require more extensive public involvement and code revisions, including: 1) changes to the bicycle parking standards, 2) changes to the planning and zoning boundaries for downtown, 3) the inclusion of green building concepts, and 4) a design review process.

The City of Eugene’s on-going struggle to shape the course of downtown development (and development throughout the city for that matter) has always seemed to me to be in reaction to the constantly changing winds that blow through our burg as opposed to being deliberate and methodical. The reality is that the City has to contend with the innumerable social, economic, and political factors that are constantly in play and simultaneously competing for dominance in matters of planning and development. Eugene has too often lacked popular consensus on the kind of city it should become. The city will never see a concentration of power and influence such as that wielded by Robert Moses of 20th Century New York or Baron Haussmann of Second Empire Paris that could broker or simply ignore conflicted constituencies in the pursuit of a grand vision (and that's a good thing). Consequently, it’s difficult to find fault in the City’s efforts to perpetually adapt and amend the Land Use Code as the state of affairs dictate.

On the other hand, why is it that many other cities can boast of greater success implementing and sustaining development plans? What is Eugene doing wrong that these other cities have avoided?

In a 2007 Register-Guard editorial, Hugh Prichard1 argued that the Eugene Land Use Code is flawed. To him, the Code is like so many things Eugenean: Based on good intentions that fail to deliver the hoped-for benefit. The City hoped for more urban density and less automobile dependence. It tried to create reasonable standards for increasing the height and density of downtown. Instead, Prichard asserted that it created more obstacles to building downtown and further incentives to build in the suburbs. The results are exactly the opposite of the City’s good intentions and adopted city goals.

It appears that the Downtown Zoning Review Project is an attempt to address some of the shortcomings that citizens like Prichard say have discouraged rather than encouraged the very results the City is seeking. The project will evaluate zoning and development code regulations and propose changes to the current Land Use Code. The City’s website declares that the purpose of the Eugene Downtown Plan is to “capitalize on development opportunities, strengthen downtown’s role as a regional center, expand cultural and recreational opportunities, create great streets and special places, and transition downtown into a vibrant city on the river.” Splendid rhetoric; time will tell if the Downtown Zoning Review Project will positively address the Land Use Code’s deficiencies or if it is simply the latest turn taken by a leaf as it blows in the wind. I am hopeful that the project will result in Code refinements that will proactively shape our downtown and provide a reliable Downtown Plan blueprint that we can all follow with confidence.

1. Note that Hugh Prichard and Jean Tate will a make a case for modifying our existing land use code downtown at the March 21, 2008 City Club of Eugene Meeting. The title of the program is "Downtown: Have We Designed Plans for Failure?"

No comments: