Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

See below for quick answers to frequently asked questions about the proposed South Willamette Special Area Zone. For more information about the project, refer to the South Willamette Special Area Zone page.

Why are we updating the code?

The South Willamette Concept Plan was created to be an “actionable” plan. In other words, the community didn’t want a plan that would sit on a shelf and gather dust, but rather one that would give us real guidance towards achieving a vision. Updating current code regulations to match the vision is an important first step. If we don’t update the code, it will be impossible to realize the vision, for example creating a great pedestrian realm along South Willamette Street, or setting standards for new buildings of the right size and shape to meet the community’s expectations.

How will the design code affect me?

Depending on whether you live, work, shop, play or travel through the district, or if you’re a property owner, renter, or business person, the design code will affect you in different ways. By looking at the maps, you can find out which development types and height limits are proposed for your property and properties around you. If you have specific concerns or questions, please get in touch with City staff. We want you to be informed!

What is “the Code” and what does it do?

The City of Eugene Land Use Code regulates what can be built in Eugene. Generally speaking, Chapter 9 of the code governs the size, shape, and location of new buildings, site improvements like parking and landscaping, and many other aspects of the city we live in every day. Most of the code is written in technical language that tries to lay out the rules as clearly as possible, often using standards that can be measured.

What’s included in the design code?

The existing zoning in the South Willamette district will be removed and replaced with a new "special area zone." See the maps and diagrams on the Proposed Design Code Information Page to find out what area is covered. The updated code will shape future development according to the vision in the South Willamette Concept Plan. Most of these changes reflect and reinforce existing development patterns in the district.

Here are a few examples. In areas currently zoned for commercial use, maximum building height will be reduced from 10 stories to 5 stories. Most existing multi-family zones will continue to be multi-family, with some changes in height. In several locations, existing single-family residential use (R-1) will be changed to allow multi-family uses, and in other areas to allow new, single-family housing types like row houses, cottage clusters, and courtyard homes. The code update will encourage more open space, parking flexibility, improved street design for pedestrians, and mixed use. New design standards will raise expectations for new development, while menus of options and some built-in flexibility will create a smoother permit application process. In addition, new standards for “transitions” will improve compatibility between larger-scale buildings and single-family, low-density homes.

What’s a “Special Area Zone”?

All development in Eugene is regulated through a variety of zones, for example commercial, residential, and industrial zones. Each zone regulates what can be built, for example building height, size, and location, allowed uses, parking requirements, landscaping, etc. A “special area zone” (SAZ) is a type of zone that is tailored to meet the needs of only one particular area of town. Inside the boundaries of the SAZ, different subdistricts act something like mini-zones to regulate future development to match the needs of the area. In this case, the subdistricts are designed to match the vision created in the South Willamette Concept Plan.

How does this relate to the recent discussion of South Willamette Street Improvement Plan (i.e. 3 lanes vs. 4 lanes)?

It is important to note that the proposed code concepts are a SEPARATE CONVERSATION from the recent discussion of travel lanes for the South Willamette Street Improvement Plan. The proposed code sets the state for a significantly improved "street-side realm" that is designed to work with either a three-lane or a four-lane configuration on Willamette Street, and does not depend on a particular outcome of the trial restriping or subsequent paving project.

In other words, the proposed code update addresses the LONG-TERM vision for streetside realm in the district. Proposed concepts DO NOT affect the outcome of recent discussions of travel lanes on South Willamette Street ("South Willamette Street Improvement Plan"); again, all proposed standards will work with either a 3-lane or a 4-lane paving configuration. Both projects have been closely coordinated to ensure that this is possible. For more information on the paving project, check the web page for the "South Willamette Street Improvement Plan."

What does the design code propose to do with South Willamette Street?

The current right of way along South Willamette Street and 29th Avenue does not allow adequate space for amenities supporting the community’s vision of a walkable district and business vitality. Current code standards would place future buildings permanently in locations needed for streetside realm amenities along South Willamette Street. This issue exists on many “key transit corridors” in Eugene.

The design code proposes a “special setback” on South Willamette and 29th Avenue to ensure that future development will allow room 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 streetside 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 streetside 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.

NOTE: THIS WOULD NOT AFFECT CURRENT BUSINESSES AND DEVELOPMENT. Current businesses need existing parking and site improvements; impacts to these existing improvements could be damaging to businesses. 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 “streetside realm” is demolished and reconstructed. However, to support the success of future businesses, owners would have the option of constructing long-term streetside improvements, including on-street parking, at the time of redevelopment.

What is the "streetside realm"?

The streetside realm generally refers to the area between the curb and the property line, usually including sidewalks, street trees and plantings, on-street parking, lights, benches, art, and other pedestrian amenities. It can also include café seating, outdoor store displays, and other commercial activity. This part of the public street is critical to walkability and business success. Districts that offer a safe, attractive and generous streetside realm rate among the most livable places in the country with high income potential for businesses. The proposed code update offers new standards for the streetside realm including features and dimensions that support this vision.

Who’s responsible for the code and what’s the update process?

The City of Eugene Planning and Development Department is responsible for administering the code. The update process begins with the community’s vision for what the future of Eugene should be like. With clear goals in mind, this process is followed by a great deal of research, analysis, and legal review to craft a code that achieves these goals. The Eugene Planning Commission, various stakeholder groups, neighbors, and experts are consulted along the way. When a complete draft is ready, the broader community is engaged to assess how well the proposed code meets and balances the community’s needs. Any proposed changes need to be carefully reviewed by the Eugene Planning Commission, who makes a final recommendation. However, all final decisions related to the code are made by the Eugene City Council based on the Planning Commission’s recommendation.

How is the community being involved and informed?

Code changes involve a great deal of community outreach to make sure everyone has a chance to understand what’s happening, get their questions answered, and share their views on the proposals. In addition to other mailings, meetings, and events, code changes require official notice to all affected property owners as well as an official public hearing at both the Planning Commission and City Council level. Official public notice requires letters to be mailed to property owners and occupants within 500 feet of the district, as well as advertisement in the local newspaper. Local community outreach far exceeds legal requirements because a well-informed and engaged community produces better results. See “upcoming events” for outreach efforts and tentative dates on the main South Willamette Special Area Zone page.

What changes can I expect to see in the area?

A good rule of thumb is to think about planning for the next generation. Even though the code update suggests that things will be different in the future, this transition will not happen overnight. In fact, given the difficult economics of redevelopment, change is expected to be very gradual. Almost all of the property in the district is already developed. Even with incentives such as MUPTE (Multi-Unit Property Tax Exemption), the analysis suggests that about 250 new multi-family housing units will be built in the entire district over 20 years, along with a few dozen new jobs. This is good news for those who are concerned about change and not so good news for those who would like the long-term vision to happen sooner rather than later.

Ultimately, change will happen whether we plan for it or not. This project is how we, as a community, can guide that change in a way that better meets our expectations.

What else are we doing to realize the vision?

Updating our code is the first step. After that, there are two main things we can do as a community. First, we can invest in the kinds of development the community want to see. Since the area is already developed, any new buildings will have to be done through “redevelopment.” This can be guided and encouraged by making strategic investments project by project. Second, we can build new public amenities like street and pedestrian improvements, parks, and plazas, or make other changes like moving power lines and utilities underground. These projects need a large funding source, so aren’t very common, but they can make a big difference in the quality and value of the district over time. These actions are part of the South Willamette Concept Plan “Action Plan” and will be completed as resources are available after the code update is adopted.

What is MUPTE and why is it being proposed for this area?

Eugene’s current economic climate (i.e. low average wages, high construction costs) make redevelopment very challenging for most development types. Student housing and medical offices are the only two types that make financial sense as redevelopment projects. Based on detailed analysis, however, other kinds of mixed use or housing are very unlikely to pencil out. Most of the new redevelopment projects we see downtown, for example, are enabled by public-private partnerships and wouldn’t be possible otherwise. The same is true in the South Willamette Area, where conditions do not support mixed use, multi-story redevelopment. For this reason, the City Council is proposing to extend the Multi-Unit Tax Exemption (MUPTE) to the South Willamette Area. This will help close the “financial feasibility gap” for a few projects over the years and help the community avoid expanding the Urban Growth Boundary. The proposed, revamped MUPTE program will also help ensure higher-quality projects and good design. It is important to note that the revised MUPTE program will not be available for student housing and medical office projects. Also, the MUPTE program will not be “turned on” for the South Willamette district until the new code is adopted and in place to help ensure that the investment supports projects that better meet the community’s expectations. For more information on the MUPTE program and revisions, see the MUPTE Revisions project web page.

How does new development happen?

New development occurs only when property owners choose. No property owner would be displaced or be required to relocate or redevelop their property; property owners will make decisions about their own properties. Market forces create opportunities for development and redevelopment. If people are not interested in building or rebuilding an apartment, a house or a business in the district, no change or development occurs. When an individual property owner decides it’s time for a change, any development proposals will be required to meet the code regulations in place at the time the proposal is made.

How can I stay informed and share my views on the design code?

Everyone is both welcome and encouraged to get involved and share input. The proposed design code is to guide the future of an important part of Eugene in a way that meets the community’s needs. Your views and insights are valuable and will help guide a successful code update for the district. The best way to stay informed of opportunities to provide input is to add your name and email address to the Interest List and check the project web page regularly. Join the Interest List.

For more information

For specific questions, please contact Jennifer Knapp at 541-682-5445 or email.