Updated June 16, 2020 by Paul Conte
LUBA APPEAL FILED JUNE 15th!
This page provides an analysis and recommendations following the Eugene City Council’s approval of Ordinance No. 20667, which amended the Eugene Land Use Code and the Eugene Springfield Metro Plan to implement the dictates of HB 2001 (2019), which is now ORS 197.758.
Click here to jump straight to potential actions you can take.
Analysis of Impacts
The adopted code amendments implement an extreme deregulation of all of Eugene’s residential areas, going far beyond the requirements of HB 2001. Despite this de facto upzoning that increases the allowable density by up to five times, the adopted code doesn’t provide any protections to prevent displacement of lower-income renters caused by the demolition of existing lower-cost rental houses and duplexes and increased rents as areas are “gentrified” by higher-end redevelopment.
Click here to view an updated table that provides a detailed comparison of the prior R-1 Zone standards, the alternative that was proposed by neighborhood leaders, and the ordinance that the City Council adopted.
It’s well-established, as well as intuitive, that when the number of dwellings allowed on a certain lot area is increased significantly, the market value of that land increases commensurately. As an example, because 4,500 square foot lots in Eugene’s R-1 Zone have now been upzoned from allowing a primary dwelling and one accessory dwelling unit (ADU) to allow four, full-sized attached or detached dwellings, the value of that lot’s land will increase substantially, potentially doubling or more.
This is an inexorable consequence of a high demand for a limited amount of available, developable land for housing in Eugene. Keep in mind that the “unit” of residential land inventory is a land area on which a dwelling can be built. Thus, a 4,500 square foot lot prior to the code amendments was two units, and the code amendments doubled that to four units. Obviously, four units have substantially more market value than two units. The market value of the 4,500 sq. ft. of land may not quite double because there is also some value in the greater land per unit with only two units because the greater land per unit potentially allows larger dwellings and accessory buildings, more yard space, or other amenities that have market value.
As has always been the case, location and potential development costs also affect changes in market value.
The impacts from the zoning deregulation in Eugene fall into six categories:
- Non-residential land. Limited or no impacts.
- Residential land with prior CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions) that limit the number of dwellings per lot and limit lot divisions. Limited or no impacts.
- Land zoned R-3 Limited High-Density Residential or R-4 High-Density Residential. Limited or no impacts. The maximum density of the R-3 and R-4 zones is 56 dwelling units per net acre (du/na) and 112 du/na, respectively. The effective maximum density of “middle housing” is about 52 du/na.
- Land Zoned R-2 Medium-Density Residential. Minimal or no impacts for lots over 7,500 sq. ft. An increase in allowable lot coverage for lots between 6,500 and 7,500 sq. ft. An increase of one or two dwellings per lot for lots under 6,500 sq. ft., as well as an increase in lot coverage. Also, elimination of off-street parking requirements for large areas on either side of EmX routes.
- Land Zone R-1 Low-Density Residential and special area zones, such as the Chambers SAZ and Jefferson Westside SAZ. Extreme impacts from up to five times the density, generally allowing doubling to quadrupling of the number of dwellings on most lots. Also, elimination of off-street parking requirements for large areas on either side of EmX routes.
For the last category (E), the deregulation creates powerful incentives for two different forms of development:
- Demolish low-value houses and construct new triplexes and fourplexes.
- “Infill” a duplex or triplex in the rear yard of a single-family house.
Large investors, including international private equity funds (e.g., Blackstone), and their local imitators are already outbidding prospective homeowners for properties that meet three criteria:
- Optimally-sized lot, specifically 4,500 sq. ft. or so (or a dividable 9,000+ sq. ft lot) in order to build 2-over-2 fourplex rentals. Alternately, larger lots where so-called “cottage clusters” comprising more than four dwellings can be developed.
- A low-value house on the lot, which limits the property’s market value to prospective homeowners .
- A good location, e.g., near amenities, attractive surrounding neighborhood, near University of Oregon, in or near the Willamette River Greenway, etc.
An example of a neighborhood that’s in the crosshairs is the “flatlands” south of W. 28th Ave. and between Willamette and Hilyard Sts.
Here’s what recently happened on W. 15th Ave. in the Jefferson Westside Neighbors. This is allowed by Ordinance No. 20667.
Smaller, local investors will follow the pattern that for many years occurred in the previously R-2-zoned area of the Jefferson Westside Neighbors. The code amendments implement completely false definitions of “triplex” and “fourplex,” to allow one to all of the dwellings to be detached. This allows a (true) triplex to be constructed in the backyard of an existing single-family house on a 4,500 sq. ft. lot and fall under the standards for a so-called “fourplex.” On a lot of only 3,500 sq. ft., a (true) duplex can be built in the backyard of an existing single-family house and fall under the standards for a so-called “triplex.” These “infill” developments can cover the entire buildable area inside the setbacks and on many lots don’t have to provide off-street parking — even where on-street parking isn’t permitted.
Here’s an example of what was built behind a nice old Craftsman in the 1400 block of W. 11th Ave. Ordinance No. 20667 allows this and worse:
Both of these profit-generating approaches remove existing housing, particularly lower-cost homes, from the inventory available to prospective homeowners. In addition, they both drive rental costs up by demolition under the first scenario and gentrification in both scenarios.
Simultaneously with the harm to lower-income renters, these strategies reduce the market value of single-family homes that have higher-valued structures in the same neighborhood area because investors are not interested in bidding for these since either of the two above strategies is more profitable by focusing on properties with lower-value structures.
The multiple impacts of densification, greater massing of fourplexes (loss of privacy, loss of solar), greater lot coverage (less open space), and parking exemptions lowers the location value for single-family property owners. In the extreme case, the desirability of a block or neighborhood may be diminished to such a degree that homeowners leave the neighborhood.
SIDEBAR: The above isn’t at all directed at renters of any type. Similar impacts would arise even if all the densification were then occupied by homeowners. But investors cannot earn a return on investment by building condominiums that is anywhere close to the ROI on higher-end rentals, especially in the current housing market in Eugene and other areas.
Finally, the deregulation allows an extreme level of development intensification, while lacking any provisions for more effective protection of Eugene’s current and future tree canopy, solar access, and the Willamette River Greenway. These negative impacts will span all the areas of redevelopment, including in existing neighborhoods and into the Greenway.
Analysis of the politics
It’s hard to comprehend how in Eugene, five elected officials who claim to be “progressives” could have so aggressively carried out such an anti-democratic, anti-intellectual strategy, which was more akin to “scorched-earth,” “win-at-any-cost” approach of the politicians now dominating the Republican party. (By no means all Republicans; Liz Cheney being a notable exception.)
But that’s what has happened. Here are the facts, indisputably in the record:
- Even with the most stretched and favorable accounting of individuals who provide a documented opinion to the City Council, there were at least four times as many individuals who opposed the ordinance as supported it.
- Neither staff nor any proponent ever identified, even categorically, which Eugene households were in a “housing crisis.” Using the staff’s own data, as well as national research, the answer was clear from the beginning — In Eugene, almost all of the truly “housing-cost-burdened” households have household incomes less than 50% of the Area Median Income. As a result of this omission, while the entire staff approach claimed to offer at least a partial solution to the “housing crisis” problem, there was never any specific description of the problem at all.
- Despite repeated requests, neither staff nor any proponent ever identified a single, relatively comparable community where these kinds of deregulation had been adopted and had benefited housing-cost-burdened households.
- Despite repeated warnings, neither staff nor any proponent ever explained why the deregulation would not lead to the kinds of investor redevelopment that would a) not produce any benefits for housing-cost-burdened households, and b) which would cause displacement of lower-income renters. Despite requests for some basic renter protections, the mayor and councilors completely ignored such requests, and some councilors even disparaged these requests as attempts to block the amendments.
- Despite repeated admonitions, neither staff nor any proponent ever explained why the “incentives” beyond what HB 2001 requirements (such as the extreme reduction in minimum lot size) did not have any “affordability requirement,” other than meeting a toothless, ineffectual “affordability” criterion to get a whopping, additional 25% reduction in minimum lot size. By their actions, the Mayor and four councilors have given away millions and millions of dollars value to investors without asking any commensurate contribution to the real housing crisis among low-income renters.
It appears that the pivotal, corrosive forces that drove the extremity of this anti-democratic and dysfunctional process included:
- Individuals (investors, developers, architects, consultants, realtors) and organizations (e.g., Home Builders of Lane County, Larco/Knudson Architects) who will benefit financially decided to cynically appropriate the rhetoric of “Missing Middle Housing,” while knowingly pushing standards that don’t resemble true “middle housing” in the slightest. The most glaring examples is the ruse of a completely false definition of “duplex,” “triplex,” and “fourplex” that includes entirely detached dwellings.
- Supposedly “affordable housing” organizations, including Cornerstone Community Housing, Homes for Good, Habitat for Humanity, and Cascade Housing Association, that sadly made a “bargain with the devil” to get deregulation of single-family zoning so they could develop housing projects, while going along with the resulting disruption of neighborhoods and the loss of naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH), which they should have been adamant about protecting.
. It’s puzzling that these organizations even opposed requiring meaningful “affordability” requirements for all of the deregulation beyond what HB 2001 requires because ostensibly all of their “affordable housing” projects would have still qualified. This was a huge miscalculation because the result of market-driven deregulation will substantially increase the cost of land for these organizations’ future projects.
- Planning Division management and staff with a long history of failure (think the Capstone student warehouse, and the South Willamette Special Area Zone debacle) that has no competence or experience in housing justice strategies and who place no trust in empowering all of Eugene’s citizens. This staff decided they would redeem their past failures by creating and conducting an unparalleled “Missing Middle Housing” performance which then morphed to an “Anti-Exclusionary Zoning” culture bereft of evidence but roaring with righteousness. The result was a transparently “cooked” series of acts promoted with a wholly manufactured false narrative based on nothing but “magical thinking” and misrepresentation of basic housing market realities.
- A small group of virulent “virtue signalers” to whom the city staff gave prime opportunities to fill roles in the staff’s orchestrated “outreach.”
- A collection of clueless and/or self-serving planning commissioners who ignorantly based their recommendation on the utterly discredited, neoliberal belief that the greatest social good would come from extreme deregulation and letting the “free-market” work its magic.
- A Mayor and seven councilors (Ward 6 Councilor Greg Evans being the one exception) who abandoned any control over the staff’s performance, despite the glaringly obvious evidence that staff’s activities comprised a flood of propaganda, but not a shred of quantitative or functional analysis.
. Unfortunately, as the process unfolded, it became clear that staff’s plan fit perfectly with the virtue-signaling needs of Mayor Vinis and Councilors Syrett and Yeh. The evidence-free process also served Councilor Zelenka’s embarrassing compulsion to appear as the “smartest guy in the room” and Councilor Keating’s sophomoric attempts to puff himself up in the eyes of the Democratic Party Lane County. A weirder group of dysfunctional personalities would be hard to imagine at this critical juncture in the future of Eugene’s neighborhoods.
. Councilors Semple, Clark, and Groves share the blame because they did nothing to push back on staff’s manipulation of the public process, the scheduling for the City Council, and the “cooked” presentations that conflicted with strong, contrary evidence that was being continually submitted to the City Council and yet ignored.
. When Councilors Semple, Clark, and Groves awoke from their sleep walking, it was too late. The staff had predictably scheduled the public hearing so close to the June 30th deadline that there was far too little meeting time for substantial deliberations and revisions.
- A devious and reprehensible manipulation of the Council process by Mayor Vinis and City Manager Sarah Medary, supported by the City Attorney and Planning Division staff. Never was there any adequate opportunity for City Councilors to consider highly credible countering data and research put forth by opponents. And, as noted these City officials got away without any pushback or accountability for the debacle that resulted.
These are the broad strokes of how this deplorable outcome happened, but there are many more specifics that were part of how this charade of a public process was manipulated to deliver the “success” that city planners longed for, and which served various interested parties.
Where did the battle for sanity and justice end up?
Although the final vote to approve the ordinance was 8-0, that was a result of four councilors’ (Semple, Clark, Evans, and Groves) calculations that they had little to win and each had something to lose by voting “No” when the ordinance was destined to pass. So they “went along to get along,”
The vote that really mattered was the earlier 4-4 tie on a motion to adopt only those code amendments that were required by HB 2001 as a first step and then broaden citizen involvement before deciding on the more extreme — and unnecessary — deregulations. Demonstrating her utter disrespect for the entire community she’s supposed to represent, Mayor Vinis chose to cast the deciding vote to ram this measure through instead of supporting a course that would have allowed bringing along the entire community to a satisfactory resolution.
Here is the raw takeaway. Despite all their self-congratulation for “winning,” the five elected officials, the entire Planning Commission, the entire well-funded apparatus of the City Administration, and the well-funded and connected self-interests delivered an evenly divided City Council. The even greater evidence demonstrating one more City government failure is that the vast majority of Eugene residents and property owners had no idea what was being pulled off, and those 2,000 or so individuals who were aware were four-to-one against it.
How can this travesty be corrected?
Ultimately, the core problem is that the current mayor and four City Councilors have demonstrated that they are virulently anti-democratic and believe their role is to impose their personal agendas and self-interests on the community, without concern for their constituents’ opinions, or contrary facts for that matter. The solution is for Eugene citizens to recruit and elect a mayor and councilors who place citizen involvement and democratic process as the most fundamental basis for effective local government.
Status and replacement of the anti-democratic mayor and four councilors
A critical election will occur in 2024, when Mayor Lucy Vinis’s term is up. That will be an opportunity to vote for someone who will respect Statewide Planning Goal 1 — Citizen Involvement and not try to dictate their personal agenda.
Ward 2 Councilor Matt Keating could be removed and replaced by a recall vote that is currently under discussion. In any case, the election for Ward 2 is in two years (2024). Stay tuned for updates.
Ward 3 Councilor Alan Zelenka is, unfortunately, likely to be on the City Council for the next four years. The next Ward 3 election is in 2026.
Ward 4 Councilor Jennier Yeh is, unfortunately, also likely to be on the City Council for the next four years. The next Ward 4 election is in 2026.
Ward 7 Councilor Claire Syrette could be removed and replaced by a recall vote that is currently being sought. Go to: Recall Claire Syrett website.
For the other four councilors, the next elections for Ward 1 (Emily Semple) and Ward 8 (Randy Groves) will be in 2024 and Randy Groves. Elections for Ward 5 (Mike Clark) and Ward 6 (Greg Evans) will be in 2026.
Remanding Ordinance No. 20667 by a LUBA appeal
Ordinance No. 20667 has numerous errors that would have a reasonable chance of being cause for the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals to remand the ordinance for correction by the City. For example, the ordinance doesn’t comply with Statewide Planning Goal 15 Willamette River Greenway because it allows intensive “middle housing” development in the Greenway with no protections. The ordinance also doesn’t comply with Goal 11 because it doesn’t ensure that there will be sufficient infrastructure and services to support the intensive development allowed by the five times increase in density.
The benefit of a LUBA appeal is that it would, for all practical purposes, delay most development that would take advantage of the deregulations. No lender will loan investors funds for new development while there is any unresolved legal issue.
In addition, a successful appeal would force the City Council to do what they should have done, e.g., protect the Willamette River Greenway.
REVISED: It’s true that winning a LUBA appeal would only put the remanded ordinance back in the hand of this hostile City Council (unless Syrett and/or Keating are replaced), so the many other harmful deregulations would probably not get fixed. However, delaying harmful development would allow more time to recall and replace Ward 7 Councilor Syrett and to organize a ballot initiative (see below)
REVISED: On June 15th, the “Notice of Intent To Appeal” (“NITA”) was filed. Please click on the “Support” tab, above to see how you can support the appeal.
Anyone who is interested in supporting an appeal by filing as an “Intervenor” (essentially another appellant) should email info@housing-facts .
One or more ballot measures
By collecting 9,689 signatures of Eugene registered voters, an ordinance can be placed on the ballot for a vote. If approved, such a measure cannot be amended or revoked by the City Council except by a unanimous vote.
Thus, a successful ballot measure would supersede this council’s actions.
There are two potential ballot measures under consideration. One of them would simply replace the ordinance that the City Council adopted with an ordinance that implements the minimal HB 2001 requirements, using a structure and much of the explicit language from the “Model Code” that was approved by the Oregon Department of Land Conversation and Development (DLCD). To learn about this alternative, just click the “Code” tab, above.
The second alternative would amend the Eugene City Charter to require voter approval of major upzonings. Here’s an example description:
“An ordinance revoking Ordinance No. 20667 and amending the Eugene City Charter to require approval by a prior majority vote among the electorate of any ordinance(s) that amend the Eugene Land Use code to change any residential development or lot standard(s) in any of the following ways:
- Increase explicit maximum density by ten percent or more;
- Exempt any dwellings from density calculations;
- Reduce minimum lot size by ten percent or more; or
- Increase the maximum dwellings per lot by ten percent or more; and which would, by any of these changes, affect three hundred or more tax lots in each and every city council ward and which changes are not specifically required by state or federal law.”
While there are many harmful elements in the adopted ordinance, the easy-to-understand and core problem in the ordinance is the radical reduction in minimum lot sizes which increases the allowable density by five times across all of Eugene.
To be approved, any proposed amendment to the City Charter will have to:
- Pass muster legally
- Have a strong likelihood of adoption
- Be relatively effective in mitigating HB 2001 code amendments
There is strong tension between the second and third objectives. To have a strong likelihood of adoption a proposed amendment must be simple, easily comprehensible, and pass the “gut check” among minimally informed voters.
Based on a other attempts, to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot and then get approved by a majority of voters would require an estimated budget of $50,000 to $100,000 to inform voters and counter the opposing, disinformation campaigns that would be conducted by the Eugene Realtors’ PAC and other industry organizations.
While this is a large financial requirement, it is a small fraction of the diminished property values and negative impacts on neighborhoods’ livability and stability. If a foundational group drawn from the 1,500 identified opponents can contribute and help enlist other contributors, that amount would be well within reach.
At this stage community members are being approached to determine their interest in committing to collecting signatures to qualify one or both of these two measures for a future ballot.
How to participate.
If you have not already signed: Click to sign the “Housing and Climate Justice” petition. and provide your email address (which is never shared with anyone).
By being a petition signer, you will receive regular emails providing updates and soliciting your opinions on strategies and actions. The first phase will determine which actions (described above) to pursue, and which (if any) ballot measures should be the focus of signature gathering. A key determinant will be the level of Eugene citizens commitment to volunteer and/or contribute financial support.
Other ways to have an impact.
1. Write letters to the editors of:
The Register-Guard — 200 words or fewer to email@example.com. Include your full name, mailing address and phone number.
Eugene Weekly — 250 words and sent to firstname.lastname@example.org along with your address and phone number
2. Get highly involved with your neighborhood association and be sure they are using their communications to make members aware. Include a link to: https://housing-facts.org/
3. Spread the word among neighbors, friends, work and other associates. Provide then the link to: https://housing-facts.org/