Hold the Line | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

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Hold the Line

Is a middle school the Urban Growth Boundary's Trojan horse?



On Monday afternoon, as rafters bumped into each other floating down the stretch of river adjacent to the Park & Rec building, a dimly lit conference room inside the building was equally crowded. For the first time in a year, the so-called UGB Remand Task Force was meeting publicly and discussing what, if any, progress it has made figuring out plans for the city's mildly controversial Urban Growth Boundary zone. Task force members summed up their plans for timing and public input, followed by a few short-sleeved collar-shirted attendees chiding the task force to hurry up. All told, it was a placid meeting.

But what wasn't talked about was a potential threat to the UGB—one that could be like introducing a pin to a balloon; specifically, where to plot a new middle school. While seemingly innocuous—and definitively needed as a remedy to current overcrowding—land use conservationists worry that the potential location of a new middle school is being used as a Trojan horse to breach the UGB.

"They couldn't pick a worse site," Paul Dewey explained several days before the recent meeting. Dewey is an attorney who works with Central Oregon Land Watch. Standing in the offices at the Source, he unfurled a large map showing a bold line tracing the city's outskirts, the line within which the city of Bend is permitted and encouraged to build.

More than a line in the sand, that boundary—the UGB—also has served as a philosophical dividing line between developers and conservationists, and a barometer measuring the city's attitude about how to plan its future.

Three years ago, in the post-lull of the region's development heydays, the city proposed a major expansion to the zone which would have allowed more housing and more developments; namely, to flex the UGB. However, that proposal received what only can be categorized as a major smack down from a state agency, the Land Conservation and Development Commission, an act that sent the city back to the drawing board to lick its wounds and reconsider what allowances and expansions it would allow. These reconsiderations, three years later, are what the UGB Remand Task Force is still working on.

There is no official site for the proposed middle school, but Dewey stabs his finger at a spot on the map in the upper right corner, a hop and skip southwest over the UGB. The space is mostly blank, but adjacent to a green blotch denoting Shevlin Park. "It is a gorgeous piece of property," he concurs, before adding: "They couldn't pick a worse site."

Although the Bend-LaPine school district has not selected a site for the middle school, Dewey worries and believes that there is momentum toward this location—and, moreover, that the weight of the school board's approval could be enough to push past the UGB.

Dewey doesn't contest the need for an additional middle school in Bend. But he ticks off reasons why this site—and puncturing the UGB—would be a bad idea.

"If you could site a school in a fire zone," he starts, "this is it." He further narrates a horrible scenario, pointing out that the school would sit next to a canyon wall. "Fire literally jumps up that," he says.

Even without considering forest fires—and crimped emergency evacuation routes—the site is clearly far from convenient. There is only one road serving the site, with the vast majority of the traffic traveling in one direction. It is clearly not a central location.

But, suspects Dewey, the potential middle school may be a preface for a larger plan for developers—and part of what was already rejected with the 2010 proposal to expand the UGB.

Stated more clearly: Building a middle school just past the outskirts of town—past Shevlin Commons—eventually would help make a compelling case to allow further residential development in the area. Dewey points out that several developers own massive tracts of lands in the vicinity of the potential site, all outside the UGB.

Certainly such speculation could be the musing of a land conservationist, but several recent political and economic developments have laid the groundwork for making this a reasonable concern—most specifically, in May, voters approved a bond measure to fund the middle school, which means that the pending middle school is more than a hypothetical.

Moreover, with the return of housing sales, so has returned developers' fervor—an eagerness on display at last Monday's meeting of the UGB Remand Task Force. One woman with glistening red fingernails calmly explained to the committee that in the past week two "clients" had chosen to not to invest money here. They were excited about the area, she explained, and wanted to bring housing developments, but found the UGB daunting. The implication was clear: Breach the UGB for the sake of further development.

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