On Jan. 24, the City of Bend sent a survey to parties involved in planning events throughout Central Oregon. The Bend City Council plans to discuss potential policy changes to the areas of the City code that relate to events on private property. This includes Temporary Change of Occupancy permits, Noise Variance permits and parking plans associated with Oregon Liquor Control Commission license applications.
While parking plans associated with OLCC license applications and noise variances were included in the survey and are up for discussion, the main focus of the proposed policy changes, on the agenda for the Feb. 21 Bend City Council meeting will be the plan to limit TCOs. For years, the Century Center on Bend's west side has been at the center of concerns about noise. A previous Source story ("Bringin' Down the Noise," Aug. 30, 2017), found business owners and event operators at the Century Center in facilitation with River West neighbors living near the complex.
Since then, the City-recommended facilitation between the Century Center and the neighbors ended without resolution. The City also completed an online study of neighbors in the River West neighborhood surrounding the Century Center, finding no problem regarding sound at the venue, according to facilitators Community Solutions of Oregon. Event operators at the Century Center, including Bend Radio Group, Volcanic Theatre Pub and GoodLife Brewing, say they've made good neighbor efforts to decrease sound levels and placate complaining neighbors.
What's the Big Deal with TCOs?
What started as an issue with noise has taken a turn. With concert promoters, including Bend Radio Group, GoodLife Brewing and Volcanic Theatre Pub, reportedly operating shows within the confines of the noise ordinance, issues are now arising with building and land use. Temporary Change of Occupancy permits allow buildings and spaces not originally designed for gatherings to hold events like the concerts at the Century Center. TCOs are issued at the discretion of the City's building official.
One of the items put forth by City staff—and up for discussion at the Feb. 21 City Council meeting—suggests limiting the number of TCOs to three per location, per year. For most businesses requesting TCOs, this won't affect them or their planned events. For the Century Center, which houses many businesses, this would have an impact. In 2017, the Century Center, collectively, received seven TCOs between Bend Radio Group, Volcanic Theatre Pub and GoodLife Brewing.
"Three TCOs came up because other cities have limited to that," says Ben Hemson, business advocate for the City of Bend. "Portland allows one TCO per building, per month. Here, that would cover the summer months. At the same time there's been some discretion for the building official. If there is a special reason to have more, they will take that into account as well."
Joe McClay is in charge of building safety for the City of Bend. He says TCOs were never meant to be a "workaround" for complying with city codes, saying TCOs should be used for businesses wanting to temporarily change the occupancy and use of a building. He sees the use of TCOs as a "once in a while" occurrence—which is why he agrees with limiting issuance of them to two to three times a year.
"The Century Center has walls surrounding it, but it was not designed as a venue," McClay says. "What's the difference? The Athletic Club of Bend, for example, was designed as an assembly. Because it was designed for that purpose, they have a higher occupancy. Building for an assembly purpose takes a very high standard. The Century Center was a mill originally and has been morphing into businesses and mercantile, but wasn't designed for assembly. You could get there, but it would take some money."
Dave Hill, owner of the Century Center, believes it doesn't make financial sense to establish a long-term venue when they only hold five outdoor events per year. In addition to changes to the building, Hill also worries about the likelihood of getting a permanent noise variance like the Les Schwab Amphitheater has.
"The City created special event permits so events can be held in parks, streets, parking lots, tents and near local businesses, and there are hundreds of outdoor events held in Bend every year," Hill says. "Tenants at Century Center want that opportunity, also."
The Show Must Go On?
Hill, along with Jim Gross, owner of Bend Radio Group, and Ty Barnett and Jason Stuwe, owners of GoodLife Brewing, say they feel targeted by the proposed policy changes regarding TCOs. Due to the permitting of the Century Center, all major events require a TCO. Because no other building in Bend requests as many TCOs, and noise surveys found no apparent issue, the event producers have concerns.
"The one thing we all do is sit here, scratch our heads and say, why?" Gross said. "The fire department, police department are fine, we have great relationships with them. Five concerts out of 365 days, nonprofits benefiting the community, bringing great acts in, the money stays here, aside from the band, it's all created in Bend for Bend, and we're not breaking the noise ordinance," he laments.
Gross adds, "Not to say we don't have an issue here or there, nothing without the flies in the ointment, but I think everyone would agree that we're doing a great job. The City is alluding to a compromise or coming together with the neighbors, but how does one negotiate when you're not breaking any ordinances?"
Hill says, "I feel like they are penalizing my tenants because I own the building. Ty has a big operation, he should be able to have an event. There shouldn't be a cap over the whole process."
According to Barnett and Stuwe, GoodLife has made many "good neighbor" efforts in order to placate nearby residents. They don't allow amplified drums, and music is over by 8 pm. But last year, when they applied for a noise variance for their anniversary party, they say they were denied and only told they were not being granted one at this time.
"We've been very involved, participated in council meetings, with business advocates over the last six years," Barnett says. "We thought we saw a light at the end of the tunnel when we were contacted by a group that was there to act as a mediation. 'Act as a neighbor,' they said. We participated in that for four months to really have it be not accepted by anyone who wanted to see results. They buried it."
Council meeting Feb. 21
The City of Bend's Event Policy survey ended Feb. 9 at midnight. The City reports more than 3,000 people accessed the survey, while 243 people responded. Between now and the City Council meeting Feb. 21, the City will analyze the data gathered, and the outcome of the survey will be discussed at the meeting. Anyone with an opinion about events being held on private property is encouraged to attend and voice any concerns.
"My hope is that music fans will email the council or attend the council meeting and express their opinions, whatever they may be," Hill says. "One percent of the neighbors should not dictate public policy, but they are the only voices being heard at this point. It's time for all live music fans to let the Council know that they appreciate live music in this town and want to be heard."
Editor's Note: This story has been edited from the original print edition, to reflect that the quote in the sixth paragraph, regarding the origins of limiting the number of TCOs, should have been attributed to Ben Hemson, not Joshua Romero. We regret the error.