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Downtown developer's plan works best for all.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Richard Herman For The Register-Guard

Charles Tilt opened his Feb. 7 guest viewpoint by saying, "Some decisions are permanent. You get only one chance to do the right thing." Metropolitan Affordable Housing, a nonprofit affordable housing provider, agrees.

We believe the city of Eugene did the right thing through the right process in acquiring property on Eighth Avenue and then soliciting proposals to develop a mixed-income and mixed-use affordable housing community on the site. Such a development would be consistent with the Eugene downtown plan adopted last April by the Eugene City Council.

After a competitive process that was inclusive, fair and thorough, the allocations subcommittee of the Housing Policy Board voted unanimously to recommend Metropolitan Affordable Housing's WestTown on Eighth plan for a $13.4 million revitalization project. The design includes 70 affordable housing units, 16 market rate units, and eight live-and-work units.

On Feb. 10, the board of the Community Center for the Performing Arts (which operates the WOW Hall) voted unanimously to endorse Metro's plan based on the commitments made in Metro's proposal to the city and to the WOW Hall board.

Members of Metro's development team met often with WOW Hall board members and staff. These representatives had the authority to offer input and make decisions representing the best interests of the WOW Hall. As a result of these collaborative efforts, WestTown on Eighth fits in with the neighborhood, and the design protects the WOW Hall's historic significance.

In addition, the plan will enable the WOW Hall to purchase an improved back lot, and Metro will commit $50,000 for improvements within the hall to address sound issues and improve acoustics. An acoustical engineer recommended by the WOW Hall board is part of the WestTown on Eighth design team. Metro will consult other experts as necessary to address sound issues outside the hall.

Tilt proposes to save the old warehouse on the site. Metropolitan Affordable Housing concluded that saving this nonhistoric, substandard, vacant building is not the right way to address sound issues, revitalize the block, provide critically needed affordable housing and protect the WOW Hall's long-term interests.

The design of WestTown on Eighth will surpass any potential benefits of maintaining the warehouse as a sound barrier, and offers a permanent fix to the WOW Hall's sound issues.

WestTown on Eighth revitalizes the entire half-block and improves the total streetscape based on a design endorsed by neighboring business and property owners. These neighbors will know for years to come what the site will look like and its use. Under federal grant guidelines, WestTown on Eighth is committed to a minimum of 40 years as an affordable housing community, and the mission of Metro calls for operating affordable housing far beyond this required time period. Like the WOW Hall, WestTown on Eighth promises to be a long-term community asset.

Tilt and the West Eighth Group propose building a higher tower for affordable housing on the remaining two lots and reducing the number of housing units. Such a design would bounce sound back into the Jefferson neighborhood, would result in less parking and would not satisfy the city's and neighboring businesses' desires for a project in scale with the neighbor- hood.

Why should the number of critically needed affordable housing units be reduced to support a for-profit proposal that benefits only a few business owners?

There are no guarantees that Tilt and his partners will not sell the warehouse property in coming years, reaping a substantial profit. The WOW Hall would be left with an uncertain future, not knowing what might be built next door. Metro's project allows the WOW Hall to be certain of its long-term neighbor.

Tilt states that Metro requires a substantial local subsidy. The subsidy is largely federal funds administered by the city for the purpose of creating affordable housing. These grants provide "seed" money for Metro to raise money from private investors, making possible this $13.4 million investment in downtown Eugene.

Some decisions are permanent; sometimes you get only one chance to do the right thing. With proposed cuts to housing programs in Washington, D.C., we need to move quickly to secure funding before this win-win opportunity for the WOW Hall and Metro slips through our hands.

A complete copy of the WestTown on Eighth plan is available at the city Planning Department in the Atrium building. Metropolitan Affordable Housing is proud of its reputation as a collaborative partner in the community and is willing to meet with any community group that would like to discuss this development.

Richard Herman (Rherman2000@msn .com) is executive director of Metropolitan Affordable Housing Inc.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 21, 2005
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