uring the Sept. 20 Bend City Council meeting, councilors sent a clear message to the community about one thing: When a real estate transaction hangs in the balance, our City Council will step up to declare an emergency to right the wrong—no matter what that might look like to those struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
In an emergency declaration, the item decided upon can go into effect immediately, versus regular business that takes a mere 30 days to go into effect.
The item in question? A so-called "million dollar home," as described by Councilor Justin Livingston, who also happens to be a real estate agent.
Herein lies an example of how important optics can be, when tasked with handling what otherwise might be the mundane business of changing city code.
During the meeting, councilors briefly debated whether to change the zoning for three and a half units at Deschutes Landing, a subdivision in the Southern Crossing neighborhood. The units were the only ones to fall under residential zoning, whereas the other 29.5 units in the subdivision fall under mixed-use zoning, allowing for Short-Term Rentals that aren't required to fall under the 250-foot rule disallowing more than one STR within 250 feet of one another. As City Councilor Sally Russell mentioned during that meeting, it was something of an oversight on the part of the City Council not to have addressed those units when establishing STR regulations in 2105.
Since the subdivision's rules—established before 2015—allowed for STRs, it's fair to say that owners who owned their homes before the city made its changes should be able to expect the city to right that wrong. Fair enough.
What exceeds our sense of fairness is to expect the City Council to make an emergency declaration to change the zoning for those three properties in Deschutes Landing, all so that a buyer looking to purchase one of those homes in 2017 could gain some assurance that the zoning would change—and change on the buyer's time schedule.
State of Emergency for all of Bend? Hardly.
We commend Councilor Barb Campbell, who ultimately voted in favor of the emergency change, but who initially expressed concern about the optics of the situation. We only wish she would have stuck to her guns and kept the emergency at bay. Here we are, Campbell said, in a housing crisis, and we're essentially taking more long-term housing that could house locals, and opening up the possibility of housing short-term visitors instead.
But these are million dollar homes, Councilor Livingston stated during the meeting—hardly the locations those seeking affordable housing would look to. True enough—but there's still the optics problem of appearing to pander to buyers in a million dollar home development by declaring an "emergency," when really, a regular, 30-day approval process would do.
While ultimately we see no real harm in allowing the owners of these three and a half units to enjoy the same zoning that their neighbors do, we also see a major optics problem in a City Council so willing to declare an emergency to do so.
The pending peril of an individual real estate transaction is not an emergency for the City of Bend.
What is an emergency? The arrival of what's expected to be another harsh winter, with fewer and fewer affordable homes for people to live in.