(May 17, 2017) – Traditional "Large Lot Zoning" is "Greener" than "Smart Growth" within Urban Growth Boundaries . . . Copyright 2009 – 2017 . . . Tom Lane . . . Photographing California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington.
Updated Oct 6, 2010
Eugene bicycle shop owner and former Eugene city councilman Paul Nicholson tells the truth about why Eugene Smart Growth hasn’t worked in the past, and why it won’t work in the future (in Eugene, that is).
And, Mr. Nicholson explains why it’s critical to maintain social services, instead of “improving the experience” for shoppers downtown in the forthcoming “urban renewal district.” The two editorials below appeared in Eugene’s Alternative Weekly.
He certainly articulates many of the economic problems associated with smart growth, mixed use developments, and forming public-private partnerships for urban renewal districts. These two articles are worth filing away forever.
Unfortunately, the same City that can’t find funding for its Agriculture Extension Center, just passed the 14 million dollar Eugene Urban Renewal District back in May, 2010 (article below). The loss of the Extension Center, with its outreach programs to families and farmers, seems to be what Paul Nicholson is talking about, when he refers to cuts in social services.
Or, perhaps he even predicted them, since these articles were written several years ago.
Spending money on urban renewal, instead of increasing budgets for social service agencies, are why many people are opposed to smart growth on moral grounds.
BY PAUL NICHOLSON, The Eugene Weekly
November 11, 2007
The controversy swirling around the Eugene development department’s downtown urban renewal district scheme has centered on two issues: 1) the appropriateness of spending tens of millions on an approach that differs little from the strategy that has damaged downtown Eugene so profoundly during the 40 years of the downtown urban renewal district’s existence; and 2) a public process that ignores all of the big issues but is, nevertheless, toothless with respect to the small issues. The ethical and aesthetic issues, however, are still larger.
Don’t be so distracted by the hard sell that you don’t notice who really benefits and what’s in it for us, the ordinary citizens: higher rents, higher taxes, more bland chain box stores, more empty parking structures and less of what makes Eugene interesting, unique and authentic.
Urban renewal diverts money from every ordinary public service. Have we reached the point where providing downtown shopping is a higher public purpose than education, street maintenance, affordable housing and social services? For example, nothing in this process guarantees that the housing we subsidize will be affordable housing. Should Eugene taxpayers promote above-market housing to attract the richer, more desirable new residents that developers prefer to the current citizenry?
What kind of partnership is it when the public is required to “invest” $40 million or more in the project and does not share in profits, but must guarantee the developers a 13 percent return?. Clearly, our city manager form of government has given us a bureaucracy that is unaccountable. We paid 46 percent of project costs of the very disappointing Broadway Plaza. Did we get our money’s worth? Apparently the lesson the development bureaucracy learned is to do it again at four times the scale.
Should we poke our local merchants in the eye with a sharp stick by privileging corporate box stores? Study after study has shown that national chains produce fewer and poorer jobs than the jobs they destroy by undermining local businesses. Are we going to have two classes of citizenship for businesses — with our local merchants, who have been here for years paying taxes, the only passengers going economy class?
Are there bigger issues than shopping? Shame on us if we endorse the city’s plan to misuse CDBG Brownfield grants. Brownfield grants are meant to remedy “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance or pollutant.” Redirecting this money to subsidize downtown shopping is an absurd abuse of this program that ought to be dedicated to addressing the real pollution problems in the Trainsong neighborhood.
Our downtown bureaucrats have destroyed the historic center of Eugene. Now, after squandering $100 million obliterating most of our architectural heritage, the city should not spend another $50 million or more to tear down the few remaining historic buildings and to replace our 1960s architecture with equally undistinguished multi-use architecture. West Eugene historic neighborhoods will be their next target.
The developers figure that 1) after five years, we will always have forgotten the last fiasco, and 2) if they throw enough dust in the air we will believe that we will get something new and interesting for free. You can put lipstick on that pig, but it is still a pig.
In truth, we will not get the downtown paradise that we are being promised but just another boring cookie cutter commercial development, half- full of second tier box stores, paid for with our taxes. We can have a plan, we can do it better and we can do it in a more principled and ethical manner.
Paul Nicholson is a Eugene business owner and former city councilor.
Here’s Paul’s second article (there could be many more, I hope so!)
BY PAUL NICHOLSON, The Eugene Weekly
June 16, 2005
Whole Foods Inc., an Austin, Texas-based juggernaut, recently revealed an interest in locating in downtown Eugene. Proponents claim the project won’t involve a subsidy to Whole Foods Market. However, it does involve swapping city land for land that the Shedd Institute for the Arts owns and then building a parking structure.
Whole Foods Markets is supposed to pay a fair price for the parking it uses, but if Whole Foods pulls out, the citizens may still be stuck with a parking structure we don’t need. In addition, Eugene will abandon long-standing plans to use the land for other purposes and will allow a private corporate project to dictate the timing and nature of a major public capital project. Furthermore, the city is already considering using urban renewal funds, property taxes diverted from the general fund and state school taxes for street and other improvements to support the project. I call that a subsidy.
So why do somersaults to attract Whole Foods Market? Is it to help Eugene’s economy? Don’t believe the propaganda that Whole Foods’ competitors will not be harmed. The average Whole Foods Market does more than $19 million in sales annually. Other whole food stores, bakeries, coffee shops, restaurants, and grocers face the peril of a large corporate competitor.
Unlike manufacturers, call centers, and research institutes, new retail stores don’t usually create new jobs. In fact, this supermarket will probably hire one new employee for each two jobs lost. This national chain will surely buy less from local suppliers and more from their corporate brethren, threatening more local jobs.
Well then, perhaps the council and mayor are trying to “save the downtown?”
Our planners and our elected officials have been preaching the gospel of urban density for decades. But a typical Whole Foods Market is a big box store. You won’t hear anything about the residential units on the top five floors, because there won’t be any upper floors.
The Chamber of Commerce propaganda machine is already in high gear, and the R-G has predictably jumped on board in support. The Whole Foods Market development can be added to the long list of other ill-advised proposals R-G pundits have advocated in the past:
The Downtown Pedestrian Mall: Based on a model that had already failed in Kalamazoo, Mich., and New Bedford, Mass., it failed predictably.
The Hilton Hotel and Convention Center: Cost us a lot of money, and hasn’t saved downtown.
The Downtown Athletic Club: Diverting block grant money intended for the urban poor to an exercise club for the rich has not saved downtown.
The Downtown Clearcut: Shoppers didn’t like the downtown mall any better without trees than with them.
The Pankow Project: Dispatched by the voters.
The Downtown Outlet Mall: The idea was abandoned after the discovery that the developers were con artists just released from prison.
The Riverfront Urban Renewal District: After 15 years and $3 million, we still haven’t seen any of the 900 new high-tech jobs promised.
The Symantec Giveaway: Symantec left for Springfield the day after its tax abatement expired.
The Downtown Six-Lane Super Highway / Coburg Road / Ferry Street Bridge Project: Fortunately defeated by the voters.
• The Downtown De-Mall: Why did we spend $50 million on the mall?
Some of these ideas might have worked if carried out as part of a comprehensive, long-term plan. But past councils and mayors have been buffaloed into one ad hoc tax-subsidized scheme after another on the false premise that any project is a good project so long as it benefits development and construction interests. Reinventing or reinterpreting city plans to accommodate every private project has made Eugene’s downtown an undeniable under-performer. These schemes have cost tens of millions of tax dollars and resulted in a downtown without focus, character or charm.
By contrast, Corvallis passed up the big urban renewal projects and has generally avoided big commercial projects. Having forgone the public expense of making a complete mess of its downtown, Corvallis has been rewarded by a vibrant downtown with successful retailers and rising values.
I asked the mayor and City Council to stop diverting taxes from school children and our general fund to advance private retail projects, to desist from the ad hoc planning that has ruined our downtown, and to stop discriminating against local businesses. I urge you to add your voice to mine.
By Edward Russo
Appeared in print: Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Three years ago, the Eugene City Council sent voters a proposal to spend $40 million on a downtown redevelopment proposal. Voters soundly rejected it.
On Monday, the council took a different tack on a new, less expensive plan to improve downtown.
Councilors voted 6-2 to approve a three-part, $13.6 million spending plan without sending it to voters. The council majority figured that the proposal has enough public support to withstand any effort to refer the matter to the ballot.
The plan’s centerpiece would provide $8 million to help Lane Community College build a campus on West 10th Avenue, near the public library.
The council majority said they hoped the spending would spur revitalization in the city center rather than end in failure, as many efforts at revitalizing downtown have done.
Voting for the plan were councilors Jennifer Solomon, George Poling, Chris Pryor, Andrea Ortiz, Alan Zelenka and Mike Clark. Opposed were councilors Betty Taylor and George Brown.
The council rejected an attempt by Taylor and Brown to let voters decide the matter in the fall.
“It’s the best way to build consensus,” Brown said. “Let the voters decide.”
But the council majority resisted, largely because they feared it would jeopardize the centerpiece of the plan, LCC’s proposed downtown campus.
“I’m not interested in killing the (LCC) project,” council President Clark said, explaining his vote against Taylor and Brown’s motion.
Mayor Kitty Piercy said the proposal had been thoroughly discussed by opponents and supporters during the past several months.
“It’s a good plan,” she said. “And we need to do it and get it done for our community.”
LCC President Mary Spilde attended the council meeting. Afterward, she said she was pleased by the council’s action. “That gives us a little more certainty about funding,” she said.
There are differences between the 2007 downtown proposal and this year’s plan.
The earlier plan would have subsidized a private housing, retail and office development on West Broadway. That idea generated widespread opposition, including from local merchants concerned about city subsidies helping a development that would attract national retailers.
The opposition may not be as broad this time, mainly because LCC’s project appears to have deep support. Opponents are focused on the financing method that the city uses to raise money for downtown projects, plus the city’s prior lack of success at helping downtown.
The financial method, called tax increment financing, shifts property taxes from other local governments, including the city’s general fund, and allows the city to use it on downtown projects.
Urban renewal opponent Paul Nicholson said he’s unsure whether opponents will start a referendum effort to put the proposal on the ballot. Opponents would need to gather 8,041 signatures of registered voters in 30 days in order to send the proposal to voters this fall.
But opponents have other ways to stop or modify the council’s plan, Nicholson said, including a lawsuit or an initiative petition. The latter would require opponents to gather 12,062 signatures to put a proposal of their own on the ballot.
Nicholson, a bike shop owner and former city councilor, said the city’s plan to pay off debt on the Broadway Place parking garages “is a naked illegal maneuver” and could be challenged in court.
There is a list of things the city can do with urban renewal funds, Nicholson said, “and none of them would allow that.”
Nicholson said he supports LCC’s project, but he doesn’t want the city to continue diverting money from other local governments.
The council-approved proposal says the district will end in eight years, but Nicholson said nothing would prevent a future council from continuing it.
The council should pass an urban renewal plan with an end date in a so-called protected ordinance that only can be changed by voters, he said.
“A protected ordinance stating that any future amendment to the (urban renewal) plan would have to be submitted to the voters would do the trick,” Nicholson said.
Besides the financial help to LCC, the city would spend $4.8 million to pay off debt on the Broadway Place parking garages, which would free funds the city could use to hire police officers for downtown; and $500,000 in Park Blocks improvements for the benefit of the Farmers’ Market. Legal, administrative and debt fees would bring total spending to $13.6 million.
The city wanted to spend an additional $2.5 million in urban renewal funds to help lure a Veterans Administration medical clinic to PeaceHealth’s property at 12th Avenue and Willamette Street. But the money is no longer needed because the VA is focused on other sites, city officials said.
In other matters, the councilors heard from several mountain bikers upset with the city for denying them access to the newly created Ribbon Trail in southeast Eugene’s Hendricks Park.
Other residents asked the council to expand the city’s limit of two chickens per household. At the end of their comments, Piercy said city officials will temporarily suspend enforcement of the two-chicken rule until a permanent solution is found.
The City Council is considering using urban renewal to fund four downtown projects
What is the City’s next step related to downtown and urban renewal?
The Council is scheduled to vote on the proposed urban renewal plan at their May 24th meeting that begins at 7:00 pm in City Hall. On April 19th, the City Council held a public hearing on the proposed plan to amend the downtown urban renewal district and on May 10th, they reviewed comments from the public and other affected taxing districts. The proposed plan would increase the spending limit on the existing downtown urban renewal district, restrict the use of urban renewal funds to pay for four projects, and then end the district as soon as enough money has been collected to fund them. The four projects would provide support for:
* Lane Community College’s proposed new downtown campus and energy center on the vacant lot at 10th and Charnelton across from the Eugene Public Library,
* A proposed Veterans’ Administration medical clinic on Willamette Street,
* Infrastructure improvements to the Park Blocks for the Farmers’ Market,
* Additional downtown urban renewal assistance in funding the Broadway Place Garages so that the Garages remain available and in good condition to support other development and redevelopment in downtown (which will free up general fund dollars for additional police officers for the Downtown Safety Initiative).