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Street width clears hurdle

Code amendments could aid Blue River businesses

EUGENE: The Lane County Planning Commission’s February 7th meeting had special significance for folks hoping to rebuild fire-destroyed buildings along parts of Blue River Drive. Discussions included proposed amendments to the Lane Code that focused on the downtown area, east of the Blue River Bridge, and would also allow the creation of special right-of-way setbacks that could benefit other areas of the county.

A section of Blue River Drive is among 30 others scattered around the county that are singled out for 10-foot setbacks, including Munsell Lake and Goodpasture roads. Another 19 streets, like Camp Creek and Deerhorn, have 20-foot setbacks.

In support of the proposals, transportation planner Becky Taylor told the commission that the county has been committed to helping residents affected by the Holiday Farm Fire rebuild. Taylor said the need for code amendments was identified when plans to rebuild the library in Blue River showed it could not meet Blue River Drive’s setback requirements.

Writing in support of making changes was McKenzie Valley Wellness president Val Rapp, who said the success of the town’s health clinic would be closely tied to the viability of the commercial district. “Even before the fire,” she wrote, “property owners in this area were blocked over and over again by obstacles to reopening, expanding, or even keeping a small business.”

Speaking in person, Antony Abel testified as an owner of a commercial property with Blue River Drive frontage. He said the setbacks have been a challenge to his plans to rebuild after fire destroyed his building.

Melanie Stanley, another owner of a commercial lot, also appeared in person. “The setbacks and all the requirements will pretty much make my property useless,” she said. She listed the lack of space for on-street parking as a big concern but also said that under current conditions she essentially would “have no access to the front of my building.”

Using the online link to the meeting was Blue River resident Tony Casad who voiced some opposition to moving ahead with the amendments because they included “no drawings, no plans, and no concept.” Casad said as part of the planning process for rebuilding the Blue River Water District and installing a new community sewage system details on where those lines will go still need to be determined. When that work is underway, he said new water lines will replace the old ones but need to be located five feet away. In addition, the sewage lines will require a 10-foot buffer between them and the new water pipes.

“There are a lot of unknowns,” Casaad said. “We need to do more studies before going through and making changes.”

Echoing those ideas, Merrick Firestone said he was involved in planning the new sanitation district and was also part of the Oregon Solutions Project. That group, Merrick said, had recently approved conducting a new survey of all the existing boundary lines in the surrounding communities.

“We don’t know where all that land is going to lay out,” he cautioned, adding that in the future “Lane County could have to do some sort of eminent domain to place all the infrastructure.”

Taylor told the planning commission that the amendments would be a “phased approach to address all the needs of Blue River.” The amendment approvals, she added, would be “just the first step in the process of cleaning up the code and creating some enabling legislation that does not dictate what the right-of-way would be for Blue River Drive.”

Approval of a design concept by the Lane County Board of Commissioners is slated for the next phase. Tayor said she plans to continue to work with community members and involved utilities to come up with a proposal they all would agree with. Her timeline to wrap that up? “By August.”

Following the planning commission’s unanimous approval of the amendments, Commissioner Stephen Dignam said he understood the concerns of some who might think the planning commission’s action was “pre-emptive or not addressing all of the problems.”

Dignam advised people, “The land use process is not simple and staff is telling us this is a necessary first step,” he said. “I have to trust the staff and I encourage you to work with them to try and make this work for your own particular, individual needs.”


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