October 2015 FAQ Update

The South Willamette Special Area Zone is a tool to implement the South Willamette Concept Plan. Planning work began in 2010 for this area to enhance a walkable business district and offer more opportunities for compatible housing options along and near a key corridor and core commercial area, as envisioned in Envision Eugene.

1. Why adopt the SW-SAZ now? What purpose does this plan serve?
The intent of the plan is two-fold: to enhance a neighborhood center that already serves a large number of Eugeneans, and to set design standards for future growth and redevelopment that is likely to occur in and near South Willamette whether the code is adopted or not.

These twin purposes have been an important part of the conversation over the last five years, from visioning to code implementation.  The first purpose is about creating more opportunities for people to find employment, do business, and meet daily needs in close proximity to their homes; for streets that are safe, comfortable and interesting to walk along; and for a greater diversity of housing options to meet a growing diversity of demographics and lifestyles.

The second purpose is about establishing design standards that require development to meet the community’s expectations.  Through the Envision Eugene process, City Council has determined that there is sufficient land for housing inside our existing Urban Growth Boundary to accommodate 20 years of population growth.  This presumes the development of currently vacant lands and the redevelopment of other properties.  For multi-family housing, the city’s approach is to prioritize Key Corridors and Core Commercial Areas, and South Willamette is identified as both.  Whether or not the South Willamette Special Area Zone is adopted, there is capacity to add development in the district. The existing zoning allows much more than is currently built, as is the case in many places across the city. The proposed code is not a tool to increase density or make development happen faster; the code serves as a set of rules that future development must follow, focusing on building form and design transitions. 

In 2014, City staff used the Redevelopment Estimating Tool (RET), an analysis framework developed collaboratively by staff and a community advisory committee, the Technical Resource Group, to compare the redevelopment expected to occur under the South Willamette Special Area Zone with the baseline of expected redevelopment under existing zoning.  The conclusion of the study was that the code had minimal impact on the quantity of redevelopment, potentially 60 additional units over 20 years in the entire area.  If City Council voted to implement economic incentives, such as the MUPTE program, it would raise the number to 250 units in 20 years.  The study demonstrated that the primary cause of redevelopment in the area would be the financial balance between construction costs and rents or sales, and not the land use code.

2. How does South Willamette connect to Envision Eugene?
The critical role that the South Willamette Special Area Zone plays in Envision Eugene is demonstrating how the city plans to accommodate infill and redevelopment in a way that preserves neighborhood livability.  Envision Eugene identified key corridors and core commercial areas, directs the city to do area planning along corridors, and directs the city to develop compatible design transitions between different land uses, especially corridors and lower density residential areas. Existing zoning and planning documents allow for a significant amount of growth, both commercial development and housing, under minimal code standards. The pivotal question is whether the neighborhood will be ready for new development, whether plans will be in place to avoid the consequences of the existing zoning.  The South Willamette Concept Plan recognized this opportunity – an opportunity to avoid problems that have plagued other neighborhoods and to build the community people want for the future.

3. Are the existing buildings the maximum height and area allowed under the current code?
No.  Existing buildings are rarely built to the maximum height and area that the zoning allows.  For example, houses in the R-1 zone (Low-Density Residential) can be up to 30 feet tall (2-3 stories) and can occupy half of the area of the lot.  For a typical 60’ x 120’ lot, that would be a 7,000 – 10,000 square foot house.  The C-2 commercial zone that lines much of south Willamette Street allows buildings that are 120 feet tall (10-12 stories), cover 90% of the property, and have no setback.

The distinction between existing buildings and zoning can be confusing when single family houses are built on properties zoned for higher density, such as R-2 (Medium-Density Residential).  Today in South Willamette, there are 40 properties zoned R-2 with single family houses on them and 32 properties zoned R-3 with single family houses on them.

Zoning is a tool the city uses to regulate development within the context of our larger land use plan, or blueprint for growth in the region, the Metro Plan.  In 1982, the Eugene-Springfield Metropolitan General Plan was adopted, establishing basic Plan Designations across the entire Metro Region. These designations, such as LDR - Low Density Residential, HDR - High Density Residential and COM - Commercial, were established as a regional policy to guide future zoning changes.  Where city zoning is in conflict with the Plan Designation, property owners typically have legal grounds to rezone their property to a zone consistent with the Plan Designation.  Today in South Willamette, there are 36 properties currently zoned R-1 that have a Plan Designation of MDR – Medium Density Residential or higher. The South Willamette planning process started with the Metro Plan as a guide to determine, with the community, where taller buildings would be appropriate in the district, and then developed an implementing zone focused on design standards and compatible transitions.

4. Were legal notices sent to residents?
Yes.  Prior to the Planning Commission Public Hearing, legal notices were sent to property owners and occupants within the Special Area Zone boundary and also those within 500 foot of the area.
  • 390 public notices (Measure 56 notices) were sent to property owners within the proposed Special Area Zone boundary;
  • 2,001 notices were sent to owners and occupants within 500 feet of the proposed boundary and to occupants within the proposed boundary;
  • 2,692 postcards invitations to the Planning Commission Open House were sent as well.  These were not required by State Law or City Ordinance.
Notices were sent through the US Postal Service. The mailing list and maps of properties are posted here: Mailing Lists and Maps.

5. Has City staff gone above the minimum public engagement required by state and city law?
Yes. 
State and city law require legal notices to property owners and occupants within the Special Area Zone boundary and also those within 500 foot of the area prior to the Planning Commission Public Hearing. The same area is planned for notification of the City Council hearing, although this is not currently required by City Ordinance.  The City of Eugene has a state-acknowledged citizen involvement program that insures the opportunity for citizens to be involved in all phases of the planning process. The City staff far surpassed these minimum obligations over five years of extensive public engagement.  Over the years, outreach has included door-to-door canvassing of businesses on Willamette St., multiple neighborhood picnics, meetings and board meetings, a “test-drive” workshop with the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, contributions to neighborhood newsletters, the creation of a code concepts video, and regular emails to an interested parties list that grew to over 650 participants.  Prior to the Planning Commission Public Hearing, and in addition to the required noticing, city staff sent a second mailing – a postcard – to every owner and occupant on the required list, as well as other stakeholders.


Recently, staff participated on a panel at the South Willamette multi-neighborhood forum, and continues to talk with and email dozens of people about the proposed code. All public comments are documented in the project record.

6. The code is too long (83 pages) and complex.  Are there summaries or other tools available through the city?
Yes.  The proposed code is long, and, like any other section in the City Code, requires enough legal precision to be used in land use appeals and other formal proceedings.  However, because it is important that code be accessible to the community, there are tools available, especially through the website.  The website includes three helpful guides, Overview and Big Ideas"Quick Look" - Summary of Conceptual Standards and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), as well as other reports, summaries and a video of key concepts.  Additionally, city staff has answered hundreds of questions to date about the specifics of the code, and continues to be available.  Please contact Jennifer Knapp at Jennifer Knapp.

7. How and when was the study area boundary established?
The study area boundary has remained fixed since the completion of the South Willamette Concept Plan in March 2013.  Prior to that, one of the tasks of the concept plan was to determine the extent of the study area.  Various boundaries were explored, and by 2012, the boundary arrived at its final shape, confirmed with the publication of the Concept Plan the following spring.

8. Are residential uses (multi-family) currently allowed on Willamette St. in the commercial area?
Yes.  The existing commercial zoning throughout the South Willamette area allows residential uses, including rowhouses, duplexes, tri-plexes, four-plexes and multiple family dwellings.  The C-2 zoning, covers 33.3 acres on and around Willamette Street, over 25% of the South Willamette area. An example of a project allowed under current C-2 zoning is The Hub, on Broadway near Patterson Street. 

9. Has the City studied how the proposed code would impact the area differently than the current code?
Yes.  Addressing the potential impacts of new development has been the main focus of the work for over five years, and is the basis for creating the proposed code.  Here are some of the impacts that have been studied:

Redevelopment
In 2014, City staff used the Redevelopment Estimating Tool (RET), an analysis framework developed collaboratively by staff and a community advisory committee, the Technical Resource Group, to compare the redevelopment expected to occur under the South Willamette Special Area Zone with the baseline of expected redevelopment under existing zoning.  The conclusion of the study was that the code had minimal impact on the quantity of redevelopment, potentially 60 additional units over 20 years in the entire area.  If City Council voted to implement economic incentives, such as the MUPTE program, it would raise the number to 250 units in 20 years.  The study demonstrated that the primary cause of redevelopment in the area would be the financial balance between construction costs and rents or sales, and not land use policy.

Traffic and transportation
From the outset of the Concept Plan development, a key concept has been to facilitate a walkable neighborhood.  The code would put setbacks in place that are needed to make Willamette Street and other streets safer, more attractive, and more walkable, as well as provide more parking in the district.  This has not been at the exclusion of cars and other travel modes, and there are a number of provisions that address specific needs for people driving or on bicycles, but in a way that helps the district overall look and function better.

At the same time that this code is being considered, the City of Eugene’s Transportation System Plan, a state-mandated, long-range plan to guide transportation investments, is also being updated.  For its traffic analysis, this plan incorporated the proposed code update for the South Willamette district.  Based on what’s expected to happen over the next 20 years, the TSP projects no need for additional infrastructure beyond what’s already been planned, which includes the restriping test of Willamette Street, and lots of other projects in the Eugene Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan.

As is already the case city-wide, any larger project that happens in the district will be required to do a traffic impact analysis to see if that particular project will trigger any needed improvements like crosswalks, signs, signals, etc. on a case-by-case basis.

In addition, the code update will comply with state rules specially designed for districts like South Willamette, where the community is trying to create an active, livable center in a currently auto-oriented, commercial district.  The code update meets all the state’s criteria, which includes maintaining car traffic capacity as it does today, but also supporting other, more active transportation modes like walking, biking, and transit.  This makes the district safer and more attractive, while providing residents and visitors with more transportation options.

Parking
Parking has been discussed thoroughly from the beginning of the project several years ago.  Based on those conversations, the South Willamette Concept Plan lays out several ways to address parking over time, and those ideas have been built on by more recent, detailed options drafted and presented to the Eugene Planning Commission by the City’s Parking Manager. Considering that the scale of change in the district is expected to be small and rather slow, this allows time to be proactive and implement parking options ahead of, or in conjunction with, new projects that may come along.  

In addition, the proposed code would create capacity for more than 235 parking spaces on Willamette Street, about the same parking capacity as the Pearl Street Garage on 10th and Oak in downtown.  Under the current code, new commercial buildings wouldn’t be able to provide parking between the building and the street.  The proposed code would create space for, and allow, new parking on the street, in addition to a safer, more pleasant pedestrian realm, in keeping with the vision of the Concept Plan.

The proposed code also reduces the minimum private parking requirements to be consistent with other recent parking standards in the city (such as Walnut Station), and increases the options that property owners have for meeting those requirements, including the use of on-street spaces, shared and time-flex parking, and off-site facilities.  These standards, coupled with the proposed parking management options, reduce the amount of land dedicated to automobile parking, in line with our community’s climate change and energy reduction goals.  The proposed parking standards balance the need for automobile parking with other needs such as to reduce impervious paving (which also reduces urban heat island effect), reduce housing costs, and use more land for other uses, from housing and commercial space to parks, gardens and patios.

Affordability
The potential for change in the district has been thoroughly studied, including how the proposed code might affect whether or not owners could choose to redevelop particular properties.  Based on the expected level of redevelopment in the district (i.e., 250 units in the district over 20 years if incentives are applied), the code itself won’t have much impact on property values or rents over the next 20 years.  Changes in affordability would be driven over this time period more by the market and local economy, not the code.  

Some say the code will decrease property values if a large project goes in next door.  Others say it will increase property values too much by making the land more attractive for redevelopment.  Each of those options could be seen as a positive or negative depending on one’s viewpoint.  The improved transition standards are designed to mitigate impacts of new development.

Housing affordability is a city-wide issue (in Eugene and many other communities) that Council and City staff are exploring further as part of a larger conversation (see Consolidated Plan, Fair Housing Plan, etc.).  Smaller homes located in town near services and amenities, with options for singles, couples, retirees, etc. are typically more affordable, especially factoring in the cost of transportation..  Pushing development to the outskirts of town, far away from services with no access to transit, and limited ability to walk or bike, increases the cost of living for those residents.  The code promotes livability through better regulations on design, transitions, more diverse building types, better streets, etc., while also allowing more people to live and work close in.  To the extent the code succeeds in achieving these goals over time, it should have a net positive effect on housing affordability.

Schools
The school district has been involved in discussions for several years, in particular around the former Willard School site.  Our current understanding is that South Eugene schools have been experiencing decreasing attendance for a number of years.  The district is aware that needs may change in the future as the demographics and composition of Eugene neighborhoods continue to shift.  For example, Willard School site is currently being held in reserve by 4J for future needs.

Given the modest changes expected through redevelopment over the next 20 years, the code itself will likely have little effect on schools.  Demographic and related economic trends, e.g., whether or not new families are starting or moving into or out of the area, will be the main drivers of school attendance.

10. Does proposed code account for the need for light, air and views on Willamette Street?
Yes.  Under the proposed code, no building can be taller than 3 stories along a street, at which point taller buildings are required to step back for all upper stories.  The current code allows buildings as tall as 120 feet to be built immediately on the front property line (The Hub on Broadway near Patterson is an example), potentially restricting light, air and views and not providing adequate space for amenities supporting the community’s vision of a walkable district and business vitality.

The design code proposes a “special setback” on South Willamette and 29th Avenue to ensure that future development will allow space for a safe and attractive pedestrian environment and on-street parking. These measures are critical for achieving the community’s vision. The special setback will help ensure that future buildings are placed in the right location to allow the desired, future street-side realm to be built within the district over time. On South Willamette Street, this includes a 15 foot special setback from the existing right of way on either side of the street. The future street-side realm preserved by the special setback would be able to accommodate a 10’ sidewalk, street trees, and amenities like lights and benches, and on-street parking to serve adjacent businesses.

As discussed in more detail below, regarding the triggers for the new code, this special setback would not impact current businesses. Current businesses need existing parking and site improvements; impacts to these existing improvements could be damaging to businesses, and so the proposed standards only apply to new projects. Property owners who choose to make changes on their property would only be required to meet the proposed standards if the existing sidewalk is demolished and reconstructed. However, to support the success of future businesses, owners would have the option of constructing long-term street-side improvements, including on-street parking, at the time of redevelopment. 

11. Can I renovate or add on to my building without triggering the new code design standards?
Yes.  The proposed code specifies that renovations and additions up to 30% (see below) do not trigger the design standards.  The triggers are:
  • New development on vacant property;
  • New buildings on property that is currently developed;
  • Alterations of existing buildings that add a dwelling(s), with specific exceptions for qualifying Secondary Dwelling Units.
  • For properties in the Mixed Use or Apartment/Condominium subdistricts: Expansions of existing building square footage by 30 percent or more, or that exceed 3,000 square feet, whichever is less;
  • For properties in the Single Family Options subdistrict: Expansions of 500 square feet or 30 percent or more of the total existing building square footage on the development site, whichever is less.  In cases where the standards apply, they shall be considered applicable only for the portion of the development site impacted by the proposed development.
Additionally, the city’s standard provisions for rebuilding structures after a catastrophe apply:  a building damaged in a fire, earthquake or similar event can be restored, as long as the reconstruction begins within two years of the damage.

12. Does the plan reduce existing problematic adjacencies between high density development and low density houses?
Yes.  One of the issues identified during the development of the South Willamette Concept Plan was that the current zoning had many abrupt adjacencies between high density commercial or residential development and low density houses.  Today under the existing zoning in the South Willamette area, there are:
  • 59 R-1 (Low-Density Residential) lots that share a property line with, or sit across an alley from, GO (General Office) or R-3 (Limited High-Density Residential) properties with height limits of 50 feet; and
  • 32 R-1 lots that share a property line with, or sit across an alley from, C-2 (Community Commercial) properties with a height limit of 120 feet.

The South Willamette Special Area Zone reintroduces the concept of height and zoning transitions, implementing gradual increments of change to increase compatibility between neighbors.  As a whole, the proposed zoning decreases those conflicts for low density properties both inside and outside the study area.  Under the proposed zoning there would be:
  • 38 R-1 or SFO (Single Family Options) lots that share a property line with, or sit across an alley from, an AC (Apartment/Condominium) or MU (Mixed Use) property with height limits of 45 feet without a Rowhouse overlay transition area.
  • 5 R-1 or SFO lots that share a property line with, or sit across an alley from, an AC or MU property with height limits of 65 feet without a Rowhouse overlay transition area.
Furthermore, the proposed transition standards would offer the highest level of protection anywhere in Eugene. These standards offer more reassurance that new development will be more compatible with existing neighborhoods. Transitions, including increased interior yard setbacks and decreased height limits, are required for all AC or MU zoned properties adjacent to areas zoned for single family homes.

In most areas of Eugene, the only transition standard required is that commercial buildings stepdown to the maximum height of adjacent residential zones within 50’ of the property line.

13.  Will my Property Taxes be affected?
No.  Property taxes are controlled by a state law that limits annual increases to 3%, regardless of changes in property values.  Unless your property is redeveloped or has new improvements, your taxable value will not be affected by the South Willamette Special Area Zone.

14. Will the City of Eugene rezone other properties adjacent to the SW-SAZ, or across South Eugene?
No.  The South Willamette Special Area Zone addresses the need for planning around one of Eugene’s key corridors and core commercial areas. With the completion of the South Willamette plan, the Planning Division will fulfill commitments for area planning in the River Road and Santa Clara neighborhoods, around the University of Oregon, and in other Key Corridors and Core Commercial Areas around the city.  No other areas near South Willamette qualify as one of these.

15. Is the outcome already decided?
No.  The final decision-making power rests with the Eugene City Council.  The Council has not yet begun its process for South Willamette, which is tentatively scheduled to begin with a work session on October 21, 2015 and a public hearing on November 9, 2015.  For now, the public record is open, and any testimony submitted now will be considered by the Council in their deliberations.  For more information see the City Public Participation website.

The Council will have the benefit of a recommendation from the Planning Commission.  The Planning Commission is appointed by the Council to help plan for growth and development within the city. The Planning Commission developed the proposed Special Area Zone code between 2013 and 2015 as a means of implementing the community vision expressed in the South Willamette Concept Plan.  The Planning Commission process involved 18 public sessions, with input from community members and city staff support.  The resulting draft code was unanimously recommended to City Council.  However, the City Council has no obligation to accept any or all of the Planning Commission recommendation.

16.   Will EmX serve the South Willamette area?
Yes, but not on Willamette Street.  MovingAhead, a collaboration between Lane Transit District and the City of Eugene, is a current project to determine what improvements are needed on some of our most important transportation corridors for people using transit, and facilities for people walking and biking.  The corridor between downtown and Lane Community College has been identified as one of these key corridors, and although the preferred route will not been determined until 2016, the project team is not considering Willamette Street itself as an option for EmX.  However, there is interest from the community project oversight committee to bring EmX service close enough to the South Willamette area that it can provide additional transportation options to the neighborhood, and Amazon Parkway is being considered as a route. This is consistent with how EmX was considered during the Concept Plan process.

17. Is MUPTE being adopted in South Willamette?
No.  At a later date, City Council may expand the MUPTE boundaries upon approval of:
  1. Amendments to the code that require that a percentage of the units in an approved tax exemption project must be workforce housing or that the developer must make a commensurate “in-lieu of” payment to the City that is based on workforce housing rental rates, and that those payments shall be used to facilitate or develop workforce housing; and
  2. Refinement plan policies that specifically provide for multiple-family and mixed use projects within that area, and that those policies are acknowledged pursuant to ORS 197.625.
The areas that the council may approve later are: the downtown area west of Charnelton; Mid-town; South Willamette; West 11th; 6th/7th Trainsong Highway 99 Corridor; Valley River Center commercial area; North Franklin; South River Road; Mid-River Road; North River Road; South Coburg Road; Mid- Coburg Road; and North Coburg Road.