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Complex leaves stark impression.

Byline: Edward Russo The Register-Guard

With the Capstone student housing complex partially complete, Eugene residents are getting a glimpse of what dense urban development looks like, and not everyone is pleased by what they see.

Some are astonished at the size of the five-story buildings and six-story parking garage under construction along Willamette and Olive streets, between 11th and 13th avenues.

"I've heard some folks express that, architecturally, it's not very interesting," said David Mandelblatt, co-chairman of the Downtown Neighborhood Association. "And the hugeness of it has attracted attention."

"What do I think?" he said. "I would like to see what it looks like when it's done."

South Eugene resident Kay Hilsenkopf said Capstone's buildings along Willamette Street are crammed next to the yet-to-be finished sidewalk.

"It's too big. It encroaches on the sidewalk," said Hilsenkopf, who drives by the complex frequently. "In a city that has so many trees and so much greenery, I don't see how it ever could have been approved, let alone approved with a tax break."

But Eugene planners say that while the complex, called 13th & Olive, may appear to crowd the sidewalk, it complies with city codes for construction downtown.

Plus, some street trees and other landscaping will be planted around parts of the complex, city officials and a Capstone representative said.

City code exempts downtown construction from landscaping and setback requirements the city typically requires elsewhere.

Instead, the code encourages dense development downtown, said Nan Laurence, senior city planner.

"Downtown is our most urban environment," she said.

In neighborhoods and other residential areas, buildings must be set back at various distances from property lines and public rights-of-way, including sidewalks. In non-downtown commercial development, the code typically requires setbacks plus landscaping such as shrubbery and street trees.

However, the code allows downtown buildings to be constructed without the setbacks, which means building walls can abut sidewalks.

By waiving setback and landscaping requirements, the city gives developers downtown the chance to maximize their revenue. Landlords can't charge tenants rent for setbacks or green space, and those open areas reduce the amount of rentable space in buildings and garages.

The Capstone complex is scheduled to be finished by next fall. When completed, this portion of downtown, which was mostly composed of parking lots plus a medical clinic building, will be filled with apartment buildings and parking garages.

The first phase - 114 apartments with 380 bedrooms, a pool, recreation areas and 600-space parking garage - was finished last week.

The width of the Capstone sidewalks built in the public-right-of-way next to the buildings will vary, as many downtown sidewalks do.

Along Willamette Street, for example, the sidewalks along the Capstone project will fit in an area between 10 feet to 11 feet wide. Along the Capstone frontage of Olive Street, the sidewalks will be about 13 feet wide.

On a recent walk around downtown, Laurence and city code analyst Steve McGuire used a tape measure to show the area's different sidewalk widths.

The walkway next to the Actors Cabaret of Eugene theater building on West 10th Avenue is 10 feet 7 inches wide; the sidewalk next to the Woolworth Building, a new office building near Broadway and Willamette Street is 12 feet, 4 inches wide.

Next to Lane Community College's new downtown campus and housing complex on West 10th Avenue the sidewalk width varies from 11 feet to more than 13 feet.

LCC opted to create a fairly large public plaza and open space at the entrance to the LCC complex near the corner at West 10th Avenue and Olive Street, setting the structure back to leave room for the plaza.

Laurence said public buildings typically are set back farther from sidewalks than private structures. "Public buildings historically have been set back to create open and inviting public spaces," she said.

Capstone is developing as much of its property as it can, but it also will provide landscaping inside and outside the complex, including along the sidewalks.

Pat Walsh, Capstone's Eugene spokesman, said seven 12-foot-long planters, each 4 feet wide, will be used for trees and shrubs along Willamette Street. These planters will go where the sidewalk is 10 feet to 11 feet wide.

The city approved Capstone's request to remove four street trees from the Willamette Street sidewalk, and three trees on the Olive Street sidewalk during the construction period, said Mark Snyder, the city's urban forester.

Other existing trees on Olive and 13th Avenue will remain, he said. Any removed trees will have to be replaced, Snyder said.

The species of the replacement trees have yet to be determined, but they could be big leaf maple, Oregon or California black oaks, or other "climate adaptable species," Snyder said.

On Olive Street, the contractor will comply with a Snyder requirement to install a sidewalk made of recycled plastic panels called Terrewalks. The 2-by-2-foot plastic panels require the excavation of 4 inches of dirt compared to 8 inches or 9 inches of soil for concrete.

Removing less soil will destroy fewer tree roots and result in less soil compaction, both of which will be beneficial for existing and yet-to-be-planted trees, Snyder said.

Also, unlike impervious concrete, the spacing and underside ridges of the plastic panels will allow rainwater to seep into the ground, another benefit to trees and shrubs, he said.

It's the first time the city has allowed a surface other than concrete to be used for a sidewalk, Snyder said.

"We have worked really hard to preserve the existing trees and soil resources to allow continued tree growth on Olive Street," he said. "And we are requiring excavation of the compacted gravel on the Willamette Street side and replacement with uncompacted topsoil so we can have good tree growth there, as well."
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Title Annotation:Eugene
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 6, 2013
Words:956
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