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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.

 

Transportation needs in Bend

It’s important for the State to prioritize funding for a Westside Transit Center on or near the OSU-Cascades campus, and to support efforts to expand bus service and decrease the time it takes to travel across town by bus.

These were among the comments BNC submitted to a bi-partisan committee of the state legislature, which heard testimony in Bend recently about local transportation needs that the State might play a role in meeting.

Since it’s unlikely that our two-lane roads and single-lane roundabouts will ever be widened, it will be critical as Bend’s population grows and densifies to have the infrastructure and transit to encourage alternatives to travel by car. Otherwise, congestion and parking problems in residential neighborhoods and local commercial areas can be expected to worsen.

To read all of the comments, please click here.

Follow-up to call for transitional zoning

At its August 25th public hearing, the UGB steering committee heard testimony on numerous aspects of the proposed ordinance to adopt the output of the urban growth boundary project.

In connection with this final round of deliberations, BNC submitted comments to the written record asking the committee once again to add language to the policy statements in the Comprehensive Plan that will allow for transitional zoning.

BNC believes it is important to include the possibility of a step-down in permitted uses within a defined buffer zone in order to minimize “offsite impacts and nuisances” where residential zones abut commercial or mixed use zones. This type of policy is standard in many other cities that have learned how to achieve some degree of harmony between adjacent zones with different levels of intensity of use.

The existing policy statement allows for special design standards, such as reduced building heights or larger setbacks, but the physical design of a building is only one aspect of its impact on surrounding areas. The use of a property has a much greater impact. Currently, however, there are no policy statements in the Comprehensive Plan that provide justification for implementing policy tools such as the “Neighborhood Compatibility Zones” called for in the Central Westside Plan.

BNC’s comments did applaud the insertion of a statement in the “Vision of Neighborhood Livability” calling for, “Comfortable integration and transitions between housing types and commercial uses.” While nice-to-have, “comfortable” is a very imprecise notion. The concept of transitional zoning or reference to step-downs in permitted uses would be much more specific.

To read or download the letter to the UGB Steering Committee, click here.

Speak Up (over the noise) campaign

BNC Speak Up sign

Until Bend’s enforcement protocol and noise ordinance are improved, residents should consider complying with the City’s process by calling the police non-emergency number (541-693-6911) and filing a complaint when noise is too loud.

Ask that an officer with a decibel meter come to your home and insist that the source of the noise be noted. Document the meter reading and send an email to City Hall with a Code Enforcement Complaint Form. For the form and e-mail address, click here.

To download an 8.5″ x 11″ version of the “Speak Up” sign that you can print and display in a window, click here.

BNC recommendations on noise

Members of BNC’s policy research work group recently made specific suggestions to the city for changes to the noise ordinance and its enforcement, as well as additions to the criteria used to evaluate applications for noise permits. The recommendations were reviewed in a meeting with staff working on livability issues as a follow up to a discussion with the city manager.

Other cities with vibrant live music scenes have policies that strike a better balance between outdoor amplified music and livability in nearby residential areas. We suggested that Bend follow the model of either Charlottesville, VA or Austin, TX. The former sets lower decibel limits than used in Bend, while the latter measures sound levels at the property line of the source of the music, rather than at the property of a “noise sensitive” person. Austin also requires an annual permit for all outdoor music venues and a sound impact evaluation by trained technicians.

To improve enforcement, we suggested shifting responsibility from the police (for whom noise complaints are and should be a low priority) to a sound technician authorized to enforce the code. Many other cities use this approach.

We also suggested that the criteria for approving or denying variance requests include the commonly-used standards of proximity, frequency, and duration. Most cities prohibit exceeding the limits in the noise ordinance within a certain distance of residential areas. They also restrict how long and how often events can impact a particular neighborhood.

To read or download BNC’s noise recommendations, click here.

White paper on Bend’s noise ordinance

BNC’s policy research work group completed its first white paper, which is on the city’s noise ordinance. We have met with the city manager to discuss these issues and will plan to follow-up with staff and city councilors to determine next steps.

Major Findings:

  1. Bend’s Noise Ordinance sets limits on noise that are substantially higher than those in Salem, Corvallis, and Portland Oregon, as well as Austin, Texas and Charlottesville, Virginia, two cities with universities and vibrant music scenes.
  2. Bend routinely issues permits that allow event organizers and establishments to exceed the noise limits, not only for special events like October Fest or Munch & Music, but for outdoor patios of restaurants or bars that abut residential neighborhoods – greatly impacting residents. Other cities are more selective.
  3. Certain Bend zoning issues increase the likelihood of generating conflict over noise.

Major Recommendations:

  1. That the City Council create a committee to review the Noise Ordinance, including noise limits, and bring those limits in line with other cities.
  2. That this committee also review the newly issued criteria used to approve or deny permits to exceed noise limits. Approving these permits should be the exception, not the rule.
  3. Bend needs to draft an enforcement protocol so that the city, police, and residents know how to proceed to initiate, respond to, and follow up on complaints.
  4. Bend should use zoning to encourage entertainment venues, especially outdoor venues that use amplified music, to locate where they are less likely to negatively impact residential neighborhoods.

To read or download the white paper, click here.