Sunday, June 3, 2012

South Willamette Area Draft Concept Plan

Intersection of 29th Avenue and Willamette Street

The City of Eugene will conduct a public workshop on June 27 to present its updated draft concept plan for the South Willamette Street area. The workshop will be an opportunity for those who attend to weigh in on such matters as building form (heights, setbacks, etc.) and transitions between residential and shopping areas.

In a nutshell, the South Willamette Area Draft Concept Plan is a study for compact urban development and “opportunity siting.” The goal is to create a concept plan for how compact urban development can be integrated into an existing transportation corridor like the South Willamette district in a manner consistent with the Envision Eugene strategy for accommodating the city’s anticipated future growth.

The concept plan’s study area is roughly between 24th and 32nd Avenues on the north and south, and Amazon Park and the base of College Hill on the east and west. Willamette is the signature north-south street running through the center of the city. The stretch of Willamette Street between 24th and 29th was once popularly known as the “Gut.” During its 1960s-1970’s heyday, cruising up and down the Gut on a Friday or Saturday night was the epitome of the teenage car culture. Today, the Gut is no more but Willamette retains its auto-centric morphology.

My wife and I happen to live just a few blocks to the south of the study area so we have a strong interest in the development of the concept plan. We travel the route daily and frequent the many popular businesses along the south Willamette Street corridor. However—like our fellow pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and motorists—we find the streetscape uninviting. Conditions are poor for walking and bicycling, and inefficient for public transit and driving. It’s clear to us that carefully planned changes are necessary for South Willamette to truly become a successful and vibrant urban district.

According to City of Eugene Urban Design Planner Patricia Thomas, AIA(1) the intent of the plan is to:
  • Support business success and a vibrant urban district
  • Find opportunity sites for sensitively located denser urban housing types
  • Allow for gradual change and integration of existing desirable features of the district
  • Support all modes of transportation: walking, biking, and driving
Trish pictures the South Willamette Area becoming a "20-minute neighborhood," a place where people can accomplish a lot of what they want to do—find a place to live and do their errands, enjoy the outdoors and possibly even work—all within 20 minutes on foot, bike or bus. Exactly how this is achieved is the crux of the matter.

One controversial aspect of the draft concept plan is the absence so far of dedicated bicycle lanes on Willamette Street from 24th Avenue to 29th Avenue. Trish points out that a more detailed grant funded transportation study of Willamette Street is currently underway. She said the city will announce future meetings later in the summer to offer the public the opportunity to review the results of the transportation study and comment upon the street design. The study will presumably address the question of bicycle lanes head on.

The focus of the June 27 meeting is limited to a review of the updated draft concept plan and ideas about the future shape of building forms in the district. It will be a chance for everyone to comment upon the South Willamette Area concept plan and discuss how well it promotes the goals and principles of Envision Eugene. Don’t miss this event if you have an interest in the future of this important urban district.

Here are the details for the public workshop:

What:   Public Workshop: South Willamette Area Draft Concept Plan

When:  June 27, 2012   6:00 - 8:00 PM

Where: Hilyard Center, 2580 Hilyard Street

(1)  Trish is a friend of mine and former co-worker at Robertson/Sherwood/Architects. She is currently the project manager for the City of Eugene’s Opportunity Siting efforts. She can be reached by phone at 541-682-5561 or by email at

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