(Update: City announcement on eliminating parking requirements)
Also approve $2.6 million contract to operate new Stepping Stone shelter on Division Street
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – At their first regular meeting of the new year, Bend city councilors heard divided testimony Wednesday night, then voted 4-2 to adopt a state-mandated directive to eliminate minimum parking requirements for new developments, in a bid to create more affordable housing and address climate change.
Last summer, state land-use officials adopted Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities rules that require larger cities to change parking rules. Several other Oregon cities filed suit to block the elimination of parking minimums. The state Court of appeals late last month denied a motion to stay the rules but agreed to hear the case this year on expedited rules, which took effect Dec. 31.
Just hours after being sworn into office, newly appointed Councilor Megan Norris, who works for Hayden Homes, recused herself from taking part in those discussions, pending guidance from the state Government Ethics Commission and “out of an abundance of caution,” citing a potential conflict of interest over benefits the proposals could bring to her employer.
During the public hearing, David Welton of Bend YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) spoke in “favor of eliminating one-size-fits-all,” costly parking mandates, saying people – not cars and parking – should be cities’ first priority.
But a 22-year Bend resident called the move “a gift to the developers. This is going to be a calamity for Bend.” And another speaker called it “wishful thinking” that dropping the parking requirements will prompt developers to build more affordable housing.
Councilor Anthony Broadman said, “I don’t think we’ve been presented much of a choice” by the state and that of the three options, “the only workable one Is before us.”
Colleague Barb Campbell, who also voted against the change, said, “I just feel like so much of this is the cart before the horse,” and that Bend doesn’t have the robust public transportation system many others who dropped parking minimums have in place.
“I don’t like this at all, and feel like I’m just completely boxed into a corner by the state,” she said.
Mayor Melanie Kebler said she agreed with colleague Ariel Mendez on questions regarding accessibility but supported moving forward.
Here's the city's News release on the decision:
City Council eliminates Parking Minimums
On January 18, the Bend City Council voted 4-2 to no longer require that developers create a minimum number of off-street parking spaces for new developments to help reduce the cost of new housing, reduce vehicle emissions and encourage more walkable communities.
With this policy change, Council removed minimum off-street parking requirements from Bend’s development code, and additionally created rules related to facilities for electric vehicles.
Bend joins other cities in Oregon, up and down the West Coast, and across the United States in making the change to remove parking minimums from City code, said Mayor Melanie Kebler.
“Cities across America are realizing the need to shift away from costly government parking mandates that drive up the price of housing and increase our reliance on vehicles,” Kebler said. “I’m proud and excited for Bend to be among the leading cities in Oregon making this smart policy change, which will free up land and resources for housing while also helping us address climate change.”
Not requiring off-street parking spaces means more land on a given parcel can be used for housing. Encouraging more housing instead of parking spaces also helps Bend become a denser, more walkable city that is less reliant on vehicles, which helps drive carbon emissions down over time.
The change was prompted by recently adopted state requirements, known as the Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities. Before these rules, Council also has previously shown interest in removing parking minimums to align with Council climate and housing goals.
Removing requirements means a developer is not required to build a certain minimum number of parking spots. It does not mean that building new parking is prohibited, or that new parking will not be built within the city.
If a developer does not put in any parking, they will be required to put in one van-accessible parking stall for certain developments. Examples include new commercial construction or new residential buildings with five or more dwelling units.
“We know that the community wants to make sure everyone has access to our transportation system no matter their ability, and that people are concerned about crowded parking in certain areas of town,” Kebler said. “Council remains committed to exploring other parking policy reforms that will increase the amount of on-street accessible parking and help us manage the curb in neighborhoods and commercial areas alike.”
New rules for electrical facilities generally require new multi-unit developments or certain new mixed-use developments to provide enough electrical capacity to support vehicle charging for a certain percentage of parking spaces provided on-site.
The new policy will take effect 30 days after a second reading. To learn more about Climate Friendly and Equitable Communities and parking changes, visit: Climate-Friendly and Equitable Communities | City of Bend (bendoregon.gov)
Councilors also adopted a $2.6 million (in federal funds) contract with NeighborImpact to operate the 28-room low-barrier emergency shelter, to be called Stepping Stone, at the extensively renovated former Bend Value Inn on Division Street, set to open next month. There will be 24/7 on-site supervision and support and a Good Neighbor Agreement to address neighbor concerns.
Fewer Bend residents rate high quality of life, echoing statewide decline
Earlier in the evening, councilors learned that Bend residents in a community survey last month gave distinctly lower grades to the area’s quality of life than just two years ago, reflecting a similar decline seen across the state, amid COVID-19 impacts and economic challenges.
DHM Research conducted both a hybrid phone and text-to-online survey of about 400 Bend residents with a margin of error of just under 5% and an online opt-in survey that drew about 1,300 Bend respondents.
Only 21% of Bend residents rated their quality of life as excellent, compared to 36% two years ago, and 49% as good, down a bit from 52% in 2020, consultant Michelle Neiss said, noting that the results reflects a wider decline in statewide sentiment after the COVID pandemic and other recent impacts.
The consultants said the percentage of Oregonians who say the state is headed in the right direction has dropped from 49% in 2014 to just 24% last year, a level not seen in nearly 20 years.
“There’s just been a really big decline in how people feel,” Neiss said, “We have COVID and we have the current economic uncertainty. It’s a hard time for people.”
A somewhat brighter spot, she noted, is that Bend-area residents are more likely to say their community is headed in the right direction than residents of many other Oregon cities
The biggest issues on Bend residents’ minds in terms of priorities are homelessness (at 36%) and affordable housing (26%)
Neiss noted that 43% of survey respondent gave the city of Bend (not worded to mean government specifically) an A or B grade, down from 65% two years ago. She said younger people gave a more positive grade in general than older or longer-term residents.
Getting into more specifics, 53% of those surveyed said their top priority regarding homelessness is for the city to work with the county to provide access to mental health and addiction services, ahead of shelter facilities, managed camps and safe parking programs.
Councilor Barb Campbell asked and was told it was the first time such a question was asked, and she noted that the services referred to are not provided by the city, but by other government and social service agencies. City Manager Eric King said the data is helpful for “where our advocacy is needed.”
New Councilor Mike Riley pointed out that “it’s not a binary choice – we need to do both.” He said he was curious how that compares to others around the state and nationally, along with the “challenge of helping people understand what the issue is in the community.”
Newly sworn-in Councilor Megan Norris said she, too, would like to know the demographic and ethnicity breakdown of survey participants, as well as income. King said more details of the survey data will be provided as the council plans listening sessions Thursday and a goal-setting retreat next week.
Here’s the city’s survey presentation, followed by a city news release Wednesday evening.
Community Survey Results Show Concern About Housing and Homelessness
Every two years, the City of Bend commissions a Community Survey, which serves as one of many inputs to City Councilors as they embark on their two-year goal setting process. Council goals provide direction to City staff and influence the City’s two-year budget.
Bend residents like living in Bend—strong majorities have positive things to say about their quality of life in the city: seven in 10 respondents rate the city as a good or excellent place to live. At the same time, residents have become less positive about the quality of life in Bend over the past two years, which DHM Research said is not unique to Bend and reflects the mood in communities across the state.
Recent survey respondents in Bend said addressing homelessness and increasing the availability of affordable housing were top concerns they want to see addressed. Transportation has receded as an issue since the last biennial survey, with relatively strong levels of satisfaction about road conditions and fewer concerns about congestion.
Residents are still feeling the pressure of population growth, according to the survey responses. They prioritize long-term planning and want to see planning that addresses housing affordability, transportation and community safety.
“The Community Survey is one of several important inputs that we hear as we embark on setting goals for the next two years,” said Mayor Melanie Kebler. “All feedback is useful. This survey feedback is consistent with what we’ve heard across the board. It’s no surprise housing affordability is a top issue.”
Homelessness is a newly dominant issue for Bend residents. These concerns are driven by visible homelessness. Residents want the City to address mental health and substance abuse issues they can see on the street.
“The number of people experiencing houselessness has risen year over year in our region for almost a decade, and in the past year, our community has been concerned by increased visible encampments in our city,” Kebler said, referencing to the Point in Time Count, which shows that in 2022, 785 adults and children are were houseless in Bend (and 1,286 Deschutes County). “We have a very high percentage of people living unsheltered, which is an unacceptable situation and one that we need to continue to address with urgency.”
When it comes to houselessness, survey respondents said they wanted a multi-faceted approach to the issue: more affordable housing and also social services such as counseling, financial education and life skills.
“The survey results indicate that public health services are seen as a key to working with our homeless community. The City of Bend stands ready to support Deschutes County in its duty to provide behavioral and addiction support,” said Mayor Pro Tem Megan Perkins. “We also will continue to work with the State to advocate for more funding and ways to streamline resources and funding for public health services in our community.”
“Council goals provide a two-year strategy for the City, but this Council is poised to plan for a healthy Bend far into the community’s future,” said Mayor Kebler. “We hear the community’s frustration related to growing homelessness and lack of housing affordability and we see flickers of hope. Our work over the past biennium to provide shelters and to transition people to more permanent solutions shows we’ve already taken actionable steps toward a better future.”
DHM Research of Portland conducted the phone and text-to-online survey of 400 Bend residents in early December. The survey is intended to assess satisfaction with City services, benchmark attitudes to previous years, gather feedback on emerging priorities and help the Council plan strategic goals for the next biennium. DHM Research took measures to ensure survey responses accurately represented all geographic areas and the demographics of the Bend community. The survey was available in English and Spanish.
Past year surveys can be found at this webpage: Community Surveys | City of Bend (bendoregon.gov)