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Tricky, complex balancing act: Bend councilors OK new rules in bid to preserve more trees – but not curb needed housing

After much testimony and council discussion Thursday night, city staff crafted a revised motion relating the changes councilors proposed to the drafted new tree preservation regulations.
City of Bend
After much testimony and council discussion Thursday night, city staff crafted a revised motion relating the changes councilors proposed to the drafted new tree preservation regulations.

Mayor Kebler says new code 'strikes a balance': developer cites costs, says 'we'll have to fight'

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Bend's newly approved update of its tree preservation rules could be compared to a tug of war and a complex math test, while doing a balancing act on a tightrope - strung between two big trees, of course.

That said, councilors held a public hearing Thursday night and received plenty of input - much of it critical, from worried developers -- before voting to approve amendments to parts of city codes that regulate the preservation of trees and when they can be removed during development.

Everyone, in general, wants to save or add trees whenever possible (except perhaps junipers, a target of one speaker Thursday night). And everyone wants "affordable" housing -- even though defining it can be as hard as producing it in the numbers people need and want.

So how to get there is anything but simple.

“We heard our community’s concerns around how many trees were cut down for larger development projects. Our community has also told us to prioritize building more much-needed housing options,” said Mayor Melanie Kebler in a city news release Friday, which continues in full below:

“The updated code strikes a balance, recognizing we want to preserve trees while also continuing to build the homes our community needs within our urban growth boundary. This is just a first step, as the council will continue to explore additional ways to promote and protect our urban canopy.”

The council on Thursday also approved adding an arborist position to city staff, as recommended through the Tree Regulation Update Advisory Committee process.

The updated codes will require developers to plant new trees on-site or make a payment in-lieu of preservation if a certain percentage of trees is not preserved on a site as part of a larger development project. (The payment figure has not yet been set, making for an even more cloudier picture.)

Approved changes generally require a developer to:

  • Preserve 20% of trees that are 20 inches in diameter or larger, or
  • preserve 25% of what is called the total “diameter at breast height” (the measurement of a tree’s diameter measured at 4 ½ feet off the ground) on a site. This means diameters of all trees that have a 6-inch diameter or larger on a development site would be added together, and 25% of that total would need to be preserved, or
  • preserve at least 5% of the total “diameter at breast height” of all trees 6 inches in diameter or greater on a site, and then either plant new trees on site and/or pay the fee in-lieu of preservation.

Development projects on sites that are one acre or less have more flexible standards. At Thursday night’s meeting councilors approved an amendment to exempt all housing projects on sites one acre or less from tree preservation requirements altogether.

The council also approved the addition of a "discretionary track" option for industrial zones. That will allow flexibility for industrial and commercial uses that require large-level sites for building space or outdoor uses.

The updated Tree Code Regulations, which take effect August 16, also will be reviewed annually by the council to assess the effectiveness of the new rules, based on data to be collected, helping to determine whether or not they are meeting community needs.

In March 2023, the city council began the process of finding new ways to balance the need to preserve trees with needed housing development. The ad-hoc, temporary Tree Regulation Update Advisory Committee (TRUAC) recommended changes aimed at preserving more trees.

Here is more background on the Tree Regulation code update.

(end of city release)


Councilor Megan Norris, who works for Hayden Homes, announced a potential conflict of interest at the start of the agenda item but said they consulted with the Oregon Ethics Commission and determined she could still take part and vote. Later, after the hearing testimony, she declared an actual conflict of interest and recused herself from the council discussion and vote.

John Heylin, a critic of the new regulations, asked for it to not just get a review in a year, but an actual one-year sunset clause. “If it works and doesn’t slow housing production, keep it in,” he said. “But if it doesn’t, let it die a quiet death.”

Jacob Clark of Hayden Homes asked that current master plans for developments be exempt from new regulations that could derail later phases.

Dave Welton of the Bend YIMBY group said it’s hard to tell the impact without the in-lieu fee being set, as it “may well raise the price of those trying to build attainable housing.”

A member of the advisory committee who voted against the proposal said there’s no evidence Bend’s tree canopy is shrinking. He called it better to build needed housing here than add costs that force more people to commute from other cities.

Chad Bettesworth of Empire Construction and Development said a rough calculation showed they would have to mitigate on one project for more than 800 trees, at a cost of $500,000 – “real money.”

“We believe it’s a taking,” he said. “You will put is in a situation where we’ll have to fight.”

Another developer also urged a field trip by councilors, to see the real-world impacts of such changes, on the ground, and said the new regulations will increase the complexity of projects and the cost of housing.

Kirk Schuler, president and CEO of Brooks Resources, noted the added uncertainty of wildland-urban interface rules now in the works and said “developers are envisioning the worst, not sure how it’s going to work,” urging a review in a year of the impacts.

Another developer said he'd tallied the likely costs on three projects to meet the new rules, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars: “Costs this high can kill housing projects.”

Cory Bittner of Pahlisch Homes said Pahlisch "loves trees" and has planted thousands more than have been removed.

“Please slow down,” he urged, noting just one developer was on TRUAC, and said financial partners told of significant added costs could kill or scale down their plans.

Article Topic Follows: Bend

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