(Update: Adding video; councilors turn down library request)
Say exception to master plan rule would set bad precedent
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Bend city councilors heard plenty of divided testimony Wednesday evening on a request by the Deschutes Public Library System for an exception to city master-plan requirements, allowing work to begin soon on a 100,000-square-foot Central Library on the city’s north end, but in the end said, in essence: Sorry, but no.
“And we love libraries! Be sure to put that in the findings!” Councilor Barb Campbell told City Attorney Mary Winters after she and colleagues made clear their issue was not with the location, the size or other issues of debate and dispute – but only, as a land-use body, about being asked to potentially set a precedent by granting an exception to the master plan requirement for areas of expansion on the edge of the city.
The Deschutes Public Library was seeking an amendment to the city's development code that would mean they do not require a master plan to proceed with construction of their planned 100,000-square-foot main library on Highway 20 near O.B. Riley Road, across from the Cascade Village Shopping Center. They expressed concern that the library cannot wait several years for neighboring property owners in a master planning process.
City planners and library officials noted that it would have been a similar exception to one granted previously for nearby North Star Elementary. But councilors noted the differences, one being federal and other requirements for neighborhood public school siting that don’t translate.
Having said the council was put in an “awkward” position, Mayor Sally Russell said, “I think there were many opportunities along the way for the applicant to partner in a process and avoid having to come to the council” with the exception request.
“I don’t see the public benefit to our community as a whole in the exception,” she said. “I feel there was so many missed chances along the way.”
City staff will draft findings from the councilors’ comments, to bring back for a vote at their next meeting on April 6.
Councilor Anthony Broadman said those findings “should encourage the library to use the existing master plan city (rules) to move this as quickly as they can.”
The library bought the 12.-7 acre site along Highway 20 at O.B. Riley Road in January 2020, months before the November 2020 voter approval (by just over 52% countywide, Campbell noted) of the $195 million bond measure. Library Director Todd Dunkelberg and other backers said it was a move aimed at transparency.
But with a surrounding property owner who lives there as well not ready to go forward with a master plan due to financial and personal reasons, the library instead asked for a map amendment to reallocate the residential land in the area, along with an amendment to the comprehensive plan for the master plan exception for property owned by the library or school district.
Councilors heard much good and critical about the library project, from plans for a transit mobility hub to the need to keep up with rapid population growth and avoid rising construction costs that would reduce the scope of what’s built and offered.
But in the end, making clear they support libraries, they came back to their specific land-use legislative role, and said they couldn’t get there.
Paul Dewey of Central Oregon Land Watch said that if, for example, rising costs were cited as a reason to grant such requests, “then you can’t turn down anything.”
The library officials noted they’d still have had to go through the annexation plan and a site plan review. And Councilor Gena Goodman-Campbell talked of trying to find “a middle road. I don’t want to be so beholden to our land use processes that we can’t move forward.”
But that proved cumbersome, adding requirements to an area plan – but Broadman said the state has praised Bend's land-use rules and that “we don’t invent a one-off exception every time” someone can’t comply with them, for whatever eason
Councilor Melanie Kebler noted that the whole goal of master plans is to avoid “piecemeal development” and to “have a whole, connected neighborhood. I don’t think the need outweighs the cost.”
During a meeting that stretched until almost midnight, councilors also approved without debate a three-year, up to $3.9 million contract with Shepherd's House Ministries to operate a daytime navigation center, connecting the homeless to a variety of services at the Second Street shelter where dozens stay overnight.
The first phase of developing the Navigation Center begins this month and lasts through its opening. State funding requires it to be operational by June 30. During this phase, Shepherd’s House Ministries will work with the city to:
· Further develop and implement Community Outreach Strategy.
· Establish admittance criteria and guidelines for maintaining services.
· Refine Good Neighbor agreements.
· Design and configure site for use as a Navigation Center.
· Procure materials, furniture, equipment, and supplies to open by June 30, 2022.
The funding includes $2.5 million approved by the state Legislature, along with federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and the city's general fund.
John Lodise, director of emergency services for Shepherd's House, said the facility has active collaboration with Family Kitchen, Project REACH and others, and on-property partnerships with organizations such as Mosaic Medical, the Companion Animals Medical Project and the Deschutes County Mobile Library.
Councilors also adopted new city council rules that include elements to ensure decorum when the public returns to City Hall this spring (after some sharply critical calls in recent months' visitors section, including being accused of "murdering" homeless people). It also sets the process for filling council vacancies to avoid issues such as the one that arose when Chris Piper was appointed to a vacant position.
You can read more about those and other council topics linked from the agenda on the city website.