The Bend City Council Chambers really heated up Wednesday night with conversation touching on legislative priorities, vacation rentals and Mirror Pond.
During the work session, City of Bend Lobbyist Erik Kancler told councilors one of the big issues in regards to transportation is whether or not a transportation package would be passed. Kancler said it’s possible that smaller portions of the package may move through, but overall, he said it’s not looking good.
Kancler said an abundance of bills doing a variety of different things related to affordable housing are in the works. The bills range from subsidized opportunities to market rate.
He spoke about different bills offering tax abatements or exemptions for projects that encourage affordable housing.
One of the primary issues associated with affordable housing is the need for land and several pieces of legislation are addressing this problem, Kancler said. Legislation involving brownfields, or former industrial or commercial land where future use is affected by real or perceived environmental contamination, would allow local government to create tax breaks for folks that are cleaning up brownfields and readying them for market. Kancler said he thinks this is a state policy that would be applicable to Bend.
Kancler said Senate Bill 516, which was primarily introduced by Senator Tim Knopp, but also supported by Representatives Gene Whisnant and Representative Knute Buehler, has started a lively conversation about how the state manages affordable housing resources. This bill focuses on the state’s use of document recording fees which are generated from different real estate transactions that are intended to help subsidize and encourage affordable housing opportunities throughout the state.
“Deschutes County generates a tremendous about of document recording fees,” Kancler said. “Most of the money goes everywhere else, and frankly we don’t exactly know how. There’s not a lot of transparency, which is one of the faults of (Oregon Housing and Community Services), the agency that manages this.”
One of the primary areas of emphasis is creating geographical equity so fees being collected in one region aren’t going to another. However, Kancler said the prospect of the bill passing in its current form is fairly slim.
Kancler said he’s watching a “budget ask” within the Oregon Housing and Community Services budget for $100 million in bonding for affordable housing. It’s an opportunity for the City of Bend to figure out what the parameters of the money are going to be, to ensure the money flows equitably to the region and come up with creative opportunities to make a pitch, he said. Kancler said he’s having conversations to make sure Central Oregon is represented and isn’t left out.
Kancler also spoke on a number of bills relating to land use and the Urban Growth Boundary. For example, House Bill 3282 would streamline the UGB process so cities like Bend can submit UGB expansion applications sequentially or as a bundle, which would save time and money by allowing cities to learn and make corrections along the way.
Jon Skidmore, assistant city manager for the City of Bend, concluded the work session with a presentation on short-term rentals, previously deemed vacation rentals.
Skidmore said efforts to address the issues associated with vacation rentals – notice, compatibility, concentration and enforcement – have been underway since November.
Bend has experienced a huge increase in the number of vacation home rental permits in the calendar years 2013 and 2014 and they are continuing to grow this year, Skidmore told councilors.
Proposed solutions presented included increased neighborhood meetings and notification requirements such as a type-2 permit in Residential Zones that requires neighbor notice to property owners within 250 feet of the potential short-term rental property in order to give those neighboring property owners the ability to comment and appeal the proposal.
On March 30, Bend City Council is scheduled to conduct public hearings on the land-use code, which would regulate the use of short-term rentals under the Bend Development Code, and the programmatic code, which proposes a licensing program for short-term rentals under the Bend Municipal Code. Learn more about short-term rentals here.
Councilor Doug Knight said he believes there are a number of loop holes that need to be addressed in the proposals.
“I appreciate your ability or your desire to walk us through it, but second on the list of policy issues to address was compatibility and we’re doing that primarily through our programmatic code suggestions, and as I’m suggesting now, I don’t believe that goes far enough and I know there are other councilors that agree,” he said.
On March 13, the Bend Chamber signed onto a letter from a number of members on the vacation rental task force. Within this letter, the task force states:
“We believe that the process we were asked to follow was flawed. We observed that by working on the programmatic issues first, we could have tightened up the regulations without having to make drastic changes to the land use codes, and we could have presented these recommendations to city council much sooner than what the schedule called for. This approach had the potential to avert a rush of new permit applications and to elicit a more positive response from concerned property owners, business owners, and citizens.”
The Bend Chamber Board of Directors also sent a letter to Mayor Jim Clinton on March 9 asking for council to delay in making a decision about vacation rentals and allow the vacation rental task force to work on the project in a way that land use and licensure may be worked on in tandem.
During the city council regular meeting, councilors voted unanimously to approve an ordinance establishing an Economic Improvement District within the City’s Central Business District. Councilors also unanimously approved amending the Bend Code regarding the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee Membership to remove the designated seat for Oregon Housing and Community Services and allow for a second at-large member.
Councilor Nathan Boddie brought up concern during the first reading of an ordinance amending Bend City Code regarding business licenses.
“The proposed changes to the code will result in better compliance from existing Bend businesses and a clearer understanding of the registration requirements for new businesses,” according to the city council minutes.
Boddie said while he’s in favor of clarity, he has noticed a rise in the amount of fees collected from business licenses and wanted to make sure the system is not being used as a cash-cow.
“The friendliest thing to local businesses would be to not charge them as much,” Boddie said.
Eagan said the rise in the amount of fees collected was due to increased compliance of businesses registering for licenses.
Councilor Roats moved for a roll call vote on the code. Councilor Campbell seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.
But when a resolution to authorize the continued study of potential future action relating to Mirror Pond and the Pacific Power hydro-electric dam came to the table, council was divided.
The Ad Hoc Committee recommended a preferred alternative vision for Mirror Pond that is a preceived middle ground between keeping the existing dam that requires dredging, and have a natural, free flowing river. The AD Hoc Committee wanted council’s approval to continue to study this alternative that would replace the dam with a rock feature, or new natural dam, and would allow fish, and possibly, boat passage.
Learn more about the vision here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/udjjkbknn14waf4/AAC7RFR-zhoyJhKtVvEvwK8ba?dl=0
More than a dozen citizens spoke about the Mirror Pond vision, addressing their concerns during the public hearing.
After heated debate, Councilors Chudowsky, Knight, Russell, Roats voted yes. Councilors Boddie, Campbell and Mayor Clinton opposed.