May Meeting

Curious about what goes into planning and land use decisions in Bend? We’ve invited Colin Stephens from the City of Bend to come talk about the local process, rules and regulations.  There’ll be plenty of time to ask questions, and chat with your fellow YIMBYs.

Join us on Monday, May 21st, at 5:30PM, at McMenamins – we’ll be in the “smoking room” (where there will be no actual smoking!).

If you’re on Facebook, please let us know you’re coming by adding your name here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BendYIMBY/permalink/440411019750741/

All are welcome!

April YIMBY Meetup

On Monday, April 30th, we’re going to meet at McMenamin’s at 6PM, and as our guest this time we’ll have none other than the mayor of Bend, Casey Roats!

This is obviously a great occasion to come out and chat with the mayor and with other YIMBYs – or even if you’re just curious what we’re all about.

Bring a friend, come on down and grab a beer with us and learn about urbanism, Bend’s history, transportation, the housing crisis and how it all interacts.

We’ll be in the “Smoking Room” at McMenamins, although of course no actual smoking will take place!

If you use Facebook, there’s an “event” there – if you RSVP we’ll have an idea of how many people are coming: https://www.facebook.com/events/1525604614405475/

Street Grids and Traffic

Something that comes up a lot in discussions about housing in Bend is traffic and congestion, especially talking about the east side of town.

If you look at how cities used to be built, with a fine grained grid, it turns out that that’s probably the best strategy.

Grids have been used in cities for thousands of years: the Romans used them and they probably weren’t the first.

The older areas of Bend have a nice grid, where if one intersection is blocked off, you can easily detour around it.  It’s never that far between two points on the grid, and travel is mostly predictable.

Compare and contrast with the east side, which has more cul-de-sac and arterial development, where a few big roads get all the traffic, and many roads don’t go anywhere.  This might be nice for the people who get no traffic, but it has a high cost in terms of resilience and adaptability, two qualities in high demand for a rapidly growing city.

Here are two adjacent properties – neighboring houses – where the drive to get from one to the other is 1.5 miles!

No wonder traffic can be problematic in that area and will get worse as it grows – you have to drive on a major road just to get to a neighboring house!

Unfortunately, I do not know if there are any good solutions to this conundrum – you can’t go back and impose a grid on areas like that at this point, because it’s all built out and people live in those houses.

The best we can do is go back to a sensible, flexible, adaptable design that has served humanity well for thousands of years for our future development.

Further reading: “Everyone knows we have a traffic problem

1947

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

Parking Minimums

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.

Setbacks

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?

Lot Coverage

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.

Mixed Use

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.

Conclusion

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.

Affordable Housing Action!

Bend’s City Council recently received some recommendations to increase the supply of market-rate affordable housing.  The list of ideas was generated by the Bend 2030 group over the period of several months, and contains a lot of sensible suggestions:

http://bend2030.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/reduced-size-FINAL-Bend-Collaborative-Housing-Workgroup-Recommendations.pdf

They won’t magically make Bend affordable to all overnight, but they put in place a variety of policies that will certainly help, and are worth supporting.

Please take a moment and write in support of the proposals:

  • Tell them your story, why this matters to you
  • If any of the ideas jump out at you in particular, tell them what you like about them
  • As always, keep it polite and friendly!

YIMBY Reading

Here’s a list of various articles and books that are good references to learn about what’s driving the housing crisis, and how to fix it.

Books:

Other Groups:

  • Strong Towns – focused on building good, financially sustainable places.
  • Market Urbanism – leans very libertarian, but they have some good discussions and some interesting articles shared.
  • SFYIMBY – these are the people fighting for more housing “in the trenches”, in the Bay Area, which is a significant source of people moving to Bend.  They’re well worth supporting!
  • http://yimby.wiki/wiki/Main_Page – YIMBY wiki with lots of links.