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If We Keep Adding Parking Lots, It’ll Be Our Own Asphalt

March 8th, 2013 by dk

Can we just say out loud that we’re done with surface parking lots? Envision Eugene envisions a Eugene where a dense core relieves pressure on its edges. The economics haven’t quite caught up with that aspiration, but we’re almost there. If we declare as a community that we will no longer support or subsidize surface parking lots in our city center, we’ll get there that much quicker.

We’re already close. Student housing projects in downtown and the South University neighborhoods are building parking into their structures because there’s more money to be made from the land without paving and striping it. Developers applying for the city’s Multi Unit Property Tax Exemption (MUPTE) have been adding courtyards and bike paths and greenery instead of asphalt.

Former Eugene Mayor Brian Obie’s ambitious proposal for a two block swath along Sixth Avenue could represent our tipping point. He envisions a movie theater, hotel, grocery store and almost 200 units of housing. His plan sops up surface parking for higher uses. He will replace the revenue Lane County has been receiving from those parking lots, even during construction. The new hotel would eliminate another parking lot — his own at 5th Street Public Market.

Parking lots are being eliminated from our downtown. That’s what we’ve wanted for decades. We built the Parcade and Overpark and other parking structures since, expecting the economics to catch up. It’s taken longer than we had hoped, but it’s finally happening.

Just a couple of years ago, urban planners and forward thinkers decried the site plan designed for the new home of Oregon Research Institute. The building was handsome enough and was being built to very modern economic and environmental standards, but it’s surrounded by a sea of surface parking.

ORI’s site was controlled by the University of Oregon as part of its Riverfront Research Park, so Eugene had less influence of how that land was to be used than we may have wished. Keeping those high-wage jobs near the downtown core was worth some compromises, and we did manage to nudge them away from the river. Whatever leverage we had was used up before the asphalt was ordered.

But that was then and this is now.

Northwest Community Credit Union recently purchased two acres beside the Wayne L. Morse United States Courthouse from the city of Eugene. They plan to build their new corporate headquarters there. Those are just the sorts of jobs we want near downtown. We want workers who walk to restaurants and gift shops. They will in turn attract other downtown businesses.

We should welcome and help them, but less so their cars.

The credit union has received permission to add drive-through windows for their customers. The Eugene City Council gave them the zoning change they requested last month. They owe us a favor.

NWCU’s building program includes lots of surface parking. Eugene and the credit union should figure out a better way to handle parking. MUPTE applicants have found ways to add structured parking to the plans. Selling a valuable parcel of downtown land to a tax-exempt organization is similar to the MUPTE tax break, except it goes on forever.

NWCU has been forthright about its need to control the extra acreage for their future expansion. A surface parking lot amounts to a de facto land bank. The credit union bought room for future expansion at today’s prices.

That’s good investment planning on their part, but it’s our future too. We can design a land bank for the credit union that works for them in the future and for us in the meantime.

Why not continue the urban farming that’s been there for two years? As housing units come on line, that use will slowly become less ironic. People attracted to living downtown soon will be asking for a dog park.

Credit unions help their customers plan for the future. A huge parking lot around NWCU’s headquarters will not pay all of us the best dividend. Let’s not miss this moment to declare that our future is finally in sight.

Asphalt is so last week.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.

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