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Familiar turf: Bend back in clutches of growth debate

By Femi Abebefe
Published On: Nov 11 2013 09:36:56 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 12 2013 11:23:20 AM CST

In a special report, NewsChannel 21's Femi Abebefe examines the debate over the future of Bend's growing infrastructure.

BEND, Ore. -

Bend city planners are once again debating what type of growth will be best for Bend. One thing both sides agree on is because of the amenities Bend has to offer, people will continue to move here.

By 2028, Bend's population could have 115,000 people, and with a new four-year university on the horizon, city Senior Planner Damian Syrnyk envisions a much different community in the near future.

“I see a much larger city, but a more metropolitan city,” Syrnyk said, “One that offers more diverse options and opportunities for folks.”

How will the city accommodate the growth? As the amount of buildable land within the city's current urban growth boundary shrinks, city councilors are debating the need to grow "up" downtown -- whether taller buildings near the river should be allowed.

“Because you can only go out so far, you're automatically constraining land, which is driving it up,” said Andy High of the Central Oregon’s Builders Association.

There are roughly 3,000 buildable lots in Bend, while 80 percent of the land in Deschutes County is publicly owned.

One of the problems for Bend: how to expand with a law forbidding building structures taller than 70 feet?

High said for Bend to prosper, it must grow within the limited space of the UGB.

“We have to continue to grow and continue to focus on bringing diversity to our economy,” High said.

Central Oregon LandWatch Executive Director Paul Dewey said he doesn't want the city to focus too much on the future and forget about the wallets of those here now, because growth costs everyone money. Take the $31 million water treatment project starting next month, which will push rates up.

“We need to consider what the people of bend can afford to pay,” Dewey said. “Not overextend our infrastructure so much that it really impacts the people who live here now."

Right now, the city is again evaluating the current UGB to accommodate the inevitable population increase -- a requirement of state land-use law, to provide for a 20-year supply of residential, commercial and industrial land.

And so, the city is examining “our need for land over the next 20 years, making sure it provides for our needs for housing, employment, schools and parks,” Syrnyk said.

Dewey, though, still believes we need to be patient and focus on quality, not quantity.

“People are thinking like they were two years ago of 'more more more,' instead of 'better better better,'” Dewey said.

High recognizes the city's amenities attract people who want to get away from cluttered skylines.

“They want to walk out into their backyard and sit down and have a glass of wine or beer, and not have to go out on a balcony with 15 other people up or below you,” High said.

High also said it's up to the city to capitalize on the growth, and make sure the demand doesn't outweigh the supply, which would make Bend less affordable.

“Where else can you ski in the morning, golf in the afternoon and ride your bike in the evening?” High said. “There's not a lot of places you can do that, and so we're going to continue to attract (newcomers).”

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