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‘We’re at a crisis point’: Both sides weigh in after Bend hearings officer denies controversial Awbrey Butte project

(Update: Adding video, comments from Bend YIMBY, city, and Save the Butte Coalition)

Applicants have 12 days to decide on appeal to city council

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Housing advocates are frustrated after a city of Bend hearings officer issued a decision denying a controversial proposal for a four-story apartment and commercial building at Compass Corner on Awbrey Butte.

Foes called oversized for their neighborhood but proponents termed an overdue effort to add more badly needed housing on the city's westside.

"The hearings officer did find that the applicant did not meet the criteria of approval in a couple of instances where the clear and objective standard could not be applied to this development and a discretionary path needed to be followed," said Colin Stephens, the city's community and economic development director.

The applicants, Bend-based Hotel Management LLC, have 12 days from the decision, that's early next week, to decide whether to file an appeal of last Thursday’s decision by Hearings Officer Gregory Frank to the city council.

In his 106-page decision, the hearings officer found that requirements were not met in that the developer did not request an exception to block perimeter standards, or a variance to the vertical height clearance in place at the time of the application, or a waiver from setback requirements.

Frank also listed 45 recommended conditions of approval, should city councilors reverse his decision and approve the proposal, which drew numerous public comments and brought a big hearing crowd.

Stephens said, "That doesn't mean that it's not approvable - they could come back in the future with the discretionary path. This is more a procedural issue than a substantive issue."

A group called “Save Awbrey Butte” fought hard, formed an LLC, raised funds and campaigned against the mixed-use proposal, saying it's too large for the one-acre lot at the corner of NW Mt. Washington Drive and Awbrey Road and calling it “one of the densest developments in Bend … so oversized that it will be visible from Redmond.”

"In the winter, cars slide into that road constantly. This structure is going to shade that corner and even make it more dangerous," said Kory Gillette, who opposes the development and is part of the Save the Butte Coalition.  Opponents also point out that the apartments would not be affordable housing, by many people's definition.

Another group, Bend YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard), had defended the proposal for adding much-needed housing to the city. Spokesman John Heylin told us by email after learning of the decision that the city code "is being weaponized against housing" and: "In the end, some people with financial means in town are exacerbating an already awful housing situation in town, and we stand against that."

We also spoke with Heylin about the decision:

"Awbrey Butte - I mean, it's not a gated community. It's not a destination resort. This is a part of the city of Bend. And this housing crisis is a community problem, and everyone in the community needs to do their part because, you know, it's -- it's where we're at. We're at a crisis point right now. "

"The last thing I want to do is piss off everyone on Awbrey Butte. I mean, I'd rather not be here, but unfortunately, the housing crisis is just so bad that somebody has to stand up and we have to build more units," Heylin said.

Gillette says it's more than that: "We need more housing, but we also need livability. And what this project would do would make this neighborhood very unlivable."

Bend YIMBY issued a post-decision statement:

"The denial of the Compass Corner project on Awbrey Butte, after a long, multi-year process, hurts our community by preventing needed homes from being built.

"The lengthy, complex and costly path to get this housing built only makes it more expensive and delays housing that people need now.

"When there isn’t enough housing to go around, rents go up. When there isn’t enough housing to go around, homelessness rises.

"Bend YIMBY hopes the denial is appealed and these badly needed homes are approved.

"Awbrey Butte is not a destination resort. It's not a gated community. It's Bend. It's time ALL of Bend does their part to solve our housing crisis."

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Isabella Warren

Isabella Warren is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Isabellahere.

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Barney Lerten

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