Bend opens door to taller riverfront buildings

Council OKs move in 4-3 vote; variance still required

BEND, Ore. - By the narrowest of margins, Bend city councilors voted again to open the door – a tall door – to the possibility of taller riverfront buildings than allowed at present.

In a repeat 4-3 vote from two weeks ago, councilors gave final approval to a number of housekeeping changes to the city's development code, a so-called "tune-up" package of changes to clarify and streamline the rules. The Planning Commission held two hearings, and the council did so on March 6.

But Councilor Mark Capell said allowing developers to apply for variances to the 35-foot height limit by the river (which grows to 70 feet as you move away from the water) was a bad idea, at least not without more public input.

"I think we're opening up a huge can of worms along the river," said Capell, who was joined by colleagues Sally Russell and Mayor Jim Clinton in opposing the amendments because of that one issue. (After a first reading two weeks ago, City Attorney Mary Winter said they couldn't approve all but that one element – it would be too big a change, not a minor one.)

Clinton agreed with Capell, saying the historic nature of downtown makes this a special case.

But councilors Jodie Barram, Scott Ramsay, Victor Chudowsky and Doug Knight said the variance process itself would allow for more public input and city staff scrutiny of any specific requests.

And it seems there won't be a lot of them, as the area with the lowest height limit, at 35 feet, is one block of Brooks Street that has two vacant lots. (The tallest downtown height limit downtown is 70 feet, east of the alley between Bond Street and Lava Road.)

Knight suggested a limit on any potential riverside height variance to 45 feet, or 10 feet above the current limit. But Capell countered with the idea of doing away with all height variances in the CB (commercial business) zone. So the vote was taken, and it was again 4-3, the same as last month.

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