Bend got its first zoning code in 1947. You can find that code, along with a map, here: https://www.bendoregon.gov/home/showdocument?id=4197
I find this interesting because most central areas of town were built prior to these regulations coming into force. Things like
- Parking minimums
- Setbacks (how far from the street a building needs to be)
- Lot Coverage
- Mixed use
Currently, the City of Bend specifies parking minimums for both housing and businesses. Why bother, though? Why not leave it up to the market? If a single guy in an apartment can get by with a bike, walking and the occasional ride from a car sharing service like Uber or Lyft, and doesn’t need a car, why should he have to pay for a parking spot? In the other hand, if a family needs some guaranteed (not on street) parking, they’re not going to buy a house without it. Why not just let people figure it out? This is how things used to be, and it seemed to be ok.
This is the minimum distance from the street that a building must be. Downtown, we have buildings like the O’Kane building – which was built in 1916. You can see how it butts right up against he sidewalk – and yet there is still room for a few tables in front of the restaurant!
It’s natural for buildings further outside of a downtown area to be more carefree with space – it’s not at a premium there. But it’s also natural for a town to evolve to better utilize space where it’s most expensive. That’s what they were doing in that building in 1916. In 2017, though, zoning has codified the part of town where buildings are allowed to have no setbacks. It’s a very small portion of town. You can’t build that way anywhere else without getting special permission to do so.
Setbacks often end up as wasted space that no one uses for anything.
Look at the fenced off group of stunted bushes in front of the Bank of America building on Newport and Wall. They add little to nothing to the aesthetics, and don’t even add much green – the tree just to the right, which occupies a tiny bit of sidewalk is much nicer in terms of greenery and aesthetics. Why not make the building bigger and utilize the space?
Also known as “Floor-Area Ratio” this is the ratio of floors in the building to the total area of the lot. For instance the O’Kane building covers the entire lot, and has two floors to boot! It is illegal to build like that in most of Bend. As with setbacks, it’s natural to evolve to a more intense use of land as a city evolves, but we have restricted that natural evolution – it’s only possible if developers ask for exceptions, or ask to change the zoning. This process has the potential to be long, drawn out, and expensive.
There is nothing more traditional than ground floor retail, with offices and housing on the floors above. It’s a pattern seen throughout the world. The O’Kane building, once again, built 100 years ago, is a perfect example – it has ground floor retail, with office space above, and was originally built with living space for the owner of the building (Hugh O’Kane was an “undocumented immigrant” who came to the US as a stowaway). This development pattern is great – it’s flexible, and puts the people who are willing to live there in very close proximity to the things they need on a day to day basis.
It is, sadly, illegal to build for mixed use throughout much of Bend – or many other cities in the US for that matter.
Zoning was introduced for a reason, way back when, in big cities, for real reasons like keeping smelly factories away from schools and people’s homes, but we’ve taken the concept entirely too far. There’s something to be learned from our past.