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Urban expansion: Where and by how much?

Byline: The Register-Guard

They may have different views on growth, but several members of a Eugene committee studying land use predict that the city will have to expand its urban growth boundary.

That's where their agreement could end.

From environmentalist Kevin Matthews to homebuilders representative Laura Potter, the committee members selected by City Manager Jon Ruiz said they expect that Eugene will have to push parts of its urban growth boundary outward to accommodate a projected population increase of 34,000 by 2031.

But the 60-member city committee may find itself tripping up and splitting apart on the details.

Where should the urban growth boundary be expanded? Somewhere in the southwest hills? Or in the flat agricultural land to the northwest? And by how much? A few acres? Or many hundreds of acres? Should more dense development be allowed within existing Eugene neighborhoods? Where? How dense?

Those telling questions may finally be served up for debate in coming weeks and months.

"If we do need to expand the urban growth boundary, where and by how much is the ultimate question," said committee member and Eugene landlord Gretchen Pierce.

Before officials can answer whether to expand the boundary, they must determine how many of the projected homes, apartments and businesses can fit within the city's existing 34,500-acre footprint.

Some residents want the city to become more dense so it doesn't have to consume much, if any, farmland outside the urban growth boundary.

That opinion is shared by Matthews, an advocate for preserving farm, forest and wetlands.

"The best thing for Eugene is to expand the urban growth boundary as little as possible," he said.

A city study completed earlier this year determined that the current Eugene boundary can accommodate most of the housing needs for the projected 34,000 additional residents, but that the city still will need about 950 additional residential acres.

Potter, government affairs director for the Home Builders Association of Lane County, said some on the committee want the city to designate areas for mixed-use development to soak up as much of the growth as possible. In such developments, housing and businesses are built near one another in dense, urban fashion.

But it's unclear whether such development is viable.

"How many people want to live in that (mixed-use) environment, as opposed to living in a single-family detached home?" she asked.

Among the most prominent examples of mixed-use developments in Eugene is Arlie & Co.'s Crescent Village, off Coburg Road. That partially built-out development has stalled. Arlie has filed for bankruptcy protection and is battling with banks over a financial reorganization plan.

To pass muster, Eugene will have to show the state Department of Land Conversation and Development that its housing plans will meet consumer demand, Potter said. By law the city must secure the department's approval.

"We need to prove to the state and the community that there is a viable market that would allow it to happen," Potter said.

If the City Council decides that the city must grow beyond its urban growth boundary, the community then will debate where to expand.

Eugene went through that discussion many years ago, when Eugene and Springfield set a joint urban growth boundary. At the time, Eugene designated a large swath of the southwest hills, in the area of Bailey Hill and Gimpl roads, plus a northwest tract in the Beacon Drive/Prairie Road area, as "urban reserves," where any urban boundary expansion would take place.

The state later eliminating those designations. But if Eugene decides that it must push outward, those areas again could be considered for growth.

Eben Fodor, an independent land consultant, said the city shouldn't have to expand beyond its present growth boundary.

Fodor analyzed the city's land needs for the statewide land use group Friends of Eugene and concluded that the city study overstated the land needs. "Eugene can rise to the challenge of accommodating growth in more compact, efficient and better-planned growth," he said.

- Edward Russo
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Title Annotation:City/Region
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 5, 2010
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