A plan for a transitional men's housing shelter just north of downtown Bend on Division Street has hit another legal snag. Neighbors are asking the city council to overturn a recent decision that would have allowed Shepherd's House to expand its operations from 32 to 60 beds.
The homeless shelter has been trying for several years to grow its operation, but has been dealt several legal setbacks even as the economy worsens and the need for its services grows. Earlier this month, a Bend hearings officer ruled that the non-profit had met all the city's requirements in its most recent bid to expand, but neighbors maintain that the city has not adequately considered the impact it will have on their businesses.
"It should be noted that appellants recognize and appreciate the social utility of the Shepherd's House," the appeal states. "Such facilities serve an important need. However, this facility, in this location provides benefit to the community it serves at a disproportionate expense to the neighborhood, the district and the businesses and residences that are located there."
In other words, "Not In Our Backyard."
The feud between Shepherd's House and its neighbors, which dates back to 2006, has gotten nasty. This past week, attorneys representing the appellants, which include more than half a dozen property owners and the local neighborhood association, filed an affidavit with the city claiming that Shepherd's House staff had harassed one of the business owners.
According to the affidavit, Shepherd's House manager Lynda Johnson and another employee walked into the neighboring business Angel Thai and informed owner Napawan Srijunyanont that her business would likely face a boycott because of her decision to join the appeal-information that Srijunyanont took as a threat.
It's unclear whether the council will hear that, or any other part of the appeal, since councilors typically opt not to get involved in individual land use decisions. Mark Capell, who has been on the council since the Shepherd's drama began, said he would like the council to stay out of the fray for now.
"Kind of on a lesser note-and not really a reason not to hear it, but a reality check-is we can spend 30 hours listening to testimony and reading, but whichever side loses is going to appeal to [the state]...So I just don't see the value in it for the council," Capell said.
Bike vs. Semi-trailer
Plans to revamp Highway 97 on Bend's north end are rolling along, but an effort to include more bike and pedestrian access to places like Cascade Village Mall, which sits smack dab in the middle of the project, is spinning its wheels - at least for the time being. State highway planners and local bike and pedestrian advocates only recently started talking about how to make the project more friendly to bikers and walkers, but so far have yet to come up with a plan - even as ODOT prepares to start work on its most detailed environmental planning document.
The "US 97 Bend North Corridor Project," conducted by ODOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), will widen the roadway from four lanes to six in an effort to reduce traffic congestion.
"Right now there is one legal crossing on the highway [at Cooley Road]. There are also several illegal crossings where people take shortcuts to get across the highway," said Sami Fournier, a member of the Bend Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.
These so-called "goat paths" demonstrate people's desire to access Cascade Village on foot and bike, and BPAC's concern is that if people are dodging traffic now, it's only going to get uglier when the road becomes six-lanes wide.
ODOT has four alternative plans for reconfiguring the highway but none of them include facilities for bicycle or pedestrian access, even where forged routes already exist. ODOT Assistant Manager Rick Williams said he has noted trails created by foot and bike traffic where the ground has been worn down, and that the state isn't going to simply ignore obvious clues like these during the planning phase.
ODOT Community Liason Rex Holloway said the state is taking this type of information, as well as other alternatives to accessing the mall, and incorporating it into Highway 97's redesign."Any improvements done will at least have a wide shoulder," Holloway said. "Highways are generally not set up for pedestrian crossings."
Still, Holloway said the agency is committed to making the area safe and accessible for all users.
While bike and pedestrian facilities haven't been at the forefront of the discussion until now, ODOT has been actively soliciting input, said Holloway. Several months ago ODOT distributed 50,000 flyers in the area alerting citizens to the project. Recently it contacted BPAC directly through Region 4 Traffic Manager Dan Serpico who now sends e-mails to a list of concerned citizens, and recently attended a BPAC meeting to update members as to how far along ODOT is in this project.
But some advocates are worried that it might be too late to change course. There already have been four public meetings on the subject and there is no other opportunity for public input between now and the beginning of the EIS this fall, although anyone can leave suggestions and comments for ODOT by visiting www.us97solutions.org. Holloway said all suggestions will be kept and considered in the final design. However, both BPAC and ODOT agree there has been almost no voluntary citizen input on the project. (Daniel Pearson)