Hacking land use laws for economic segregation

Most of our land use laws in Oregon have good intentions behind them. But in the hands of people with money, acting in bad faith, they can be used to further economic segregation of our cities. Here’s an example of that in action.

We’ve been following a proposed development on Awbrey Butte: https://bendyimby.com/2021/09/14/how-housing-in-bend-gets-more-expensive-and-is-slow-to-build/ and the neighbors are fighting tooth and nail.

They keep writing comments like:

  • Why is the developer going to “build multiplexes rather than classy
    single-family homes”.
  • “this type of development that does not fit in with the neighborhood”
  • “Awbrey Butte was not built for high density. Why? For high end large homes on large lots”
  • “We want the developers to plan single-family residences on 12,500 sq. ft. lots”
  • “The current Awbrey Butte neighborhood is a highly sought after place to live, and would cease to be so in the future with the addition of the large number of tenants the proposed development would bring, thus lowering the property values significantly. We bought this home as an investment and expected it to continue to retain it’s excellent property value far into the future.”

At the public meeting, there were a lot of worries about “renters” being in the neighborhood.

There are also the usual laments about automobiles. Parking, traffic and so on. How the roads are steep and dangerous in the snow. They are, but that doesn’t stop the current residents from living there. Perhaps they should think of the potential new residents as allies in trying to get the city to plow/cinder their streets faster?

In any event though, the basic desire to keep out slightly less expensive, and not “classy” duplexes is pretty clear, but thanks to Oregon’s HB2001, that is no longer a valid objection. So the residents did some digging, and found a rule – “Street Connectivity and Formation of Blocks standards (BDC 3.1.200.D)” – that is in place to provide better connectivity in neighborhoods.

It’s a good rule! Look at this article from several years ago where we found two adjacent lots that require a mile+ walk to get from one to the other! The city should be actively discouraging that kind of thing, and this rule does just that.

That said, the development under consideration is on a fairly steep portion of Awbrey Butte, which is not conducive to a grid. And the piece of land in question isn’t even really conducive to a simple loop, because the terrain is steep.

Do the neighbors really care about street connectivity? Let’s look at a map:

The new cul-de-sac for the proposed development is marked in blue (approximate location). Existing cul-de-sacs are marked in red.

They have spent a lot of money on homes in an area with a large number of cul-de-sacs! But this is the rule they found where the developer is not 100% in compliance, and where an exception to the rule is required for the development to go forward. So they are weaponizing it in order to try and stop or slow the development.

The thinking is along these lines: the more time and legal expenses they can tie up the developer with, the more likely the developer either gives up and sells the land, or accedes to their demands and builds “quality, classy single family units” rather than duplexes for undesirables like “renters”.

The City of Bend is bound to follow the letter of the law in order to avoid lawsuits against their own process, and so this has now been elevated to a formal hearing process. If you guessed that this will cost the developer more time and money, between legal fees, city fees and delays, which will then be included in the price of the homes being built, you guessed correctly!

Some of the neighbors even have the gall to complain that the homes being built are not going to be cheap enough (they are on Awbrey Butte in a nice area, after all), at the same time their own efforts are driving up the prices. They’re even threatening to drag the whole thing out all the way up to Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals.

We should strive for more, rather than less diverse neighborhoods in Bend, and we desperately need more homes of all shapes and sizes. Our land use laws should serve to create a great place for everyone, rather than as a cudgel for the wealthy to exclude others from “their” neighborhoods.

If you don’t think this kind of thing is ok, sign up for Bend YIMBY communications here: https://bendyimby.com/join-us/ . We’ll let you know when the hearing happens so you can voice your support for more homes in Bend!

3 thoughts on “Hacking land use laws for economic segregation”

  1. The key is keeping up with the population as it grows. So with that said: generally you are correct, however fighting for a duplex here or there will not keep up with population growth. Furthermore it only serves to exacerbate urban sprawl and force labor to live farther away further increasing wages which drives up only the housing prices at best.
    What is needed 150 unit plus multifamily/mixed-use near services, for example; under used areas near downtowns where residents might be able to walk to work foregoing cars.
    So look at population growth and compare it to housing units produced in the area. The answer will be self evident.

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    1. Hi – generally, yes, we spend more time advocating for things that are more central and closer to more amenities. Those are the best projects of all!
      However, this isn’t sprawl – it’s well within the UGB. And it takes advantage of HB2001 that promotes some gentle density, and to be honest, it’s kind of galling that in a time when all of Bend is seeing some change, a wealthy area thinks they can opt out of it.

      Like

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