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Proposed Livability Committee

The BNC steering committee joined representatives of several neighborhood associations (NAs) in a recent meeting with three city councilors (Roats, Livingston, and Moseley) to discuss forming a standing committee to address the impacts of growth on livability.

Many in the room favored the proposal by Councilor Bill Moseley. He was involved in forming the Bend Economic Development Advisory Board, which reports to the Council. He thinks Bend should have a comprehensive, strategic approach to livability concerns and believes a structure like BEDAB would help move policy alternatives to the Council for deliberation.

Others in the meeting thought the city didn’t need another committee, but should further empower the NAs. One way to do this would be to give official recognition to the Neighborhood Association Round Table (NART), which is only an ad hoc group at this time. NA representatives serving on NART would then do some of the work envisioned for a livability committee.

Whether either idea will be acted on remains unclear. Mayor Roats seemed to prefer recognizing NART, but expressed a concern that neighborhoods across the city have different priorities, and might have trouble separating immediate problems from what’s best for long-term citywide policies.

BNC favors both empowering neighborhood associations and forming a standing committee

BNC believes there doesn’t have to be a choice between empowering the NAs and having a better structure for getting livability issues before the Council. To be effective, the NAs need some additional support from the City and clear direction on what is expected from them. They also need to know that they can and should take positions on issues before the City. At the same time, a group appointed by the Council (including NA reps), with a standing parallel to BEDAB, would facilitate access to the Council regarding livability issues.

BNC noise strategy

The Neighborhood Coalition has released an updated summary of the issues with Bend’s noise policies and practices. (To read the full statement, click here.)

The BNC steering committee discussed its suggested approach to dealing with noise in a meeting with City Councilor Bill Moseley. He was recently successful in getting a majority of councilors to agree to hold a work session to address how the current noise ordinance is implemented. The focus will be on “living within limits” — that is, limiting noise variances and temporary occupancy permits that have enabled event organizers to hold large concerts and competitions adjacent to residential areas.

BNC supports this short-term effort to direct the city manager to implement current policies in a more restrained and balanced manner. We have listed eight areas in which permissive interpretations, poor enforcement, and a lack of discretion in issuing variances have caused continuing conflicts.

Next year, we want to see the Council adopt minor changes to the noise ordinance that bring it into line with practices in other cities. This includes reducing decibel limits and setting a limit for mixed use zones.

In 2019, the Council should consider new policies that strengthen city code by moving from a complaint-driven approach to noise to a prevention-oriented one (like the Austin model) and by addressing the need for regulation of outdoor event centers.

Outdoor music venues and event centers

The Neighborhood Coalition generally doesn’t weigh in on individual noise variance applications, but tries to focus on underlying policy issues that affect livability in Bend.

However, we were asked by the board chair of the Tower Theatre Foundation and several board members of River West Neighborhood Association to add our perspective on the issues at stake in allowing major concerts on Mirror Pond Plaza.

In comments to the city manager, BNC objected to an application for a noise variance by Crow’s Feet Commons for July 16, 2017. An event in June was picked up by mics in the Tower, causing substantial interference with the musical being staged in the theatre.

Mirror Pond Plaza isn’t the only site where promoters have taken advantage of gaps in city policies and permissive interpretations by city staff to use temporary permits and variances to stage major paid concerts and similar events with large audiences on properties where such uses were never reviewed.

BNC believes the City Council needs to adopt policies that address the proliferation of outdoor music venues and “pop up” event centers.

To read the comments submitted to the city, click here. To see an article on this topic in the recent BNC newsletter, please click here.

City chooses growth over neighborhood livability

The new City Council recently adopted goals that will determine how money and staff resources are committed over the two-year period starting in July.

The Neighborhood Coalition had supported addressing three issues this year: amending the noise ordinance to reduce decibel levels to more closely match the standards in other cities; terminating the ability of non-conforming vacation rental permits to transfer on sale; and forming a standing committee to maximize the university’s positive benefits to the city and minimize potential negative effects.

The Council decided not to revisit the noise ordinance or the short term rental ordinance. It also did not specifically endorse forming a Town & Gown Committee, but rather adopted a vague objective to, “Develop a communication system to connect the City with OSU-Cascades and Neighborhoods.”

The City keeps saying that it has no bandwidth to address the implications of growth. Apparently, all of its attention is to be focused on growing the city, and the consequences will have to sort themselves out later.

BNC believes city government needs to strike a balance between making growth happen and addressing the side effects of growth.

Amending the noise ordinance

In a position statement on amending the noise ordinance in Bend, BNC calls for reducing decibel levels in residential zones to match those in Portland, Salem, and Corvallis. Current standards in the Bend code allow volume levels during daytime hours that sound twice as loud.

The statement also proposes that decibel limits be set for mixed use zones. There is no standard at this time, and City staff has previously written to event organizers telling them they could use the highest limits in the code (for industrial zones) in these areas. More mixed use zones are anticipated going forward, allowing both commercial and residential uses.

In addition to changes to the code, BNC proposes shifting responsibility for monitoring violations from residents to a City sound technician. This staff or contract person would work proactively to ensure that venues are in compliance and have the authority to cite violators, relieving police officers of most noise enforcement duties.

Two other proposals were made for future action: 1) Creating an outdoor music venue permit modeled on one in Austin, TX (“the live music capital of the world”); and 2) Planning for one or more entertainment districts away from residential areas, where the rules can be more relaxed.

To read the entire position statement, click here.

2016 city council candidate questionnaire

The Bend Neighborhood Coalition asked this year’s candidates for City Council to address several important issues affecting neighborhood livability. All seven candidates responded to the questionnaire.

To read or download the complete responses, click here.

Among the questions, we asked the candidates where they stand on 12 neighborhood livability issues. Here’s how their responses compared with BNC positions:

2016-candidate-livability-positions

The top 5 issues on which the candidates were most in agreement include:

  • Establishing a university district to concentrate campus-related development in adjoining mixed use zones, while protecting the character of nearby residential neighborhoods
  • Establishing parking districts in areas where nearby uses (commercial, educational, etc.) create excessive demand by non-residents
  • Terminating the ability to transfer non-conforming short term rental permits on sale
  • Reducing decibel levels in the noise ordinance to more closely match other cities
  • Planning for one or more entertainment districts where outdoor amplified music and late-night entertainment is concentrated and allowed to operate under more relaxed guidelines

Priorities for managing the growth of tourism

“If you build it for the residents, the tourists will come. If you build it for the tourists, the residents will leave, and eventually, the tourists will stop coming.”

These words from award-winning journalist and urban critic, Roberta Gratz, are worth keeping in mind when thinking about tourism.

Tourism Should be Viewed in the Context of the City’s Growth

Several newspaper articles and City Club’s recent program on the growth of tourism, have called attention to the pluses and minuses of tourism’s impact on Bend. But tourism isn’t good or bad in its own right — the question is whether Bend’s policies are up to the task of handling the impacts of tourism.

The reality is that it’s difficult to distinguish between activities that mostly involve tourists and those for residents. Both locals and visitors are attracted to Bend’s restaurants, pubs, and festivals, along with its great outdoor recreation. That means that managing the growth of tourism is part of managing overall growth.

And, the key to managing growth in a way that keeps Bend livable is to minimize incompatible uses, especially those that spill over into residential areas, where the City’s permanent residents don’t expect or appreciate nuisances like noise and congestion. Unfortunately, gaps in the City’s current policies not only allow for incompatibility, but often enable or encourage it.

Priorities for Managing the Growth of Tourism

With this context in mind, the Bend Neighborhood Coalition has issued a position statement outlining five priorities for managing the growth of tourism (click here for the full statement). These include:

1) Ending the transfer-on-sale of old-style short term rental permits in order to achieve an actual reduction in the density of vacation rentals.

2) Lowering sound levels, requiring a permit for outdoor entertainment venues, and shifting enforcement of the noise ordinance from the police to a sound technician.

3) Adding criteria for noise and event permits so that variances are granted sparingly, don’t affect the same neighborhoods repeatedly, and are used for events that have a community focus, not a private commercial focus.

4) Diversifying tourism promotion to appeal to groups and families that want to sample Bend and perhaps decide to relocate themselves and their businesses here, while phasing out the practice of awarding prizes for completing the Ale Trail.

5) Developing a vision for one or more entertainment districts where outdoor music and late-night fun is concentrated and allowed to prosper under more relaxed guidelines.

Why It’s Important to Have Good Policies

The price of not acting on these priorities is greater conflict — conflict that makes neighborhoods less appealing for Bend’s permanent residents and requires expensive City resources to manage. As Bend becomes more densely populated, we will need policies that acknowledge the increased potential for conflict and promote compatible uses before conflicts arise. We will also need more consistent enforcement of the rules.

So, we support the tourism industry as an important part of the local economy. At the same time, we would like to see it managed in a way that minimizes the impact on livability for Bend citizens. Additionally, we believe the City owes it to its permanent residents to work toward a more diverse economy, so Bend isn’t affected so negatively by the declines in tourism that inevitably accompany recessions.