Connecting Eugene appeals city’s permit for riverfront development
Opposition group attempts to delay University’s efforts to expand Oregon Research Institute
Riverfront development opposition group Connecting Eugene filed an appeal with the State of Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals last Tuesday, challenging the City of Eugene’s issuance of a building permit for the controversial Oregon Research Institute project within the University’s Riverfront Research Park.
Though the preliminary permit only allows for excavation and grading of the 4.3-acre site, Connecting Eugene considers the University’s headlong construction efforts to construct a private office building and large parking lot for ORI in violation of provisions in RRP’s 1989 Conditional Use Permit.
By appealing the city’s permit, the opposition group hopes to delay construction and mandate a public hearing to determine whether the current project — undertaken more than 20 years after the original RRP’s plans were cast — is still in the public’s favor.
The proposal to construct the private office building on a public swatch of Willamette’s riverfront land has been challenged on a number of fronts recently.
The ASUO Senate and University Senate both passed resolutions last October and November, respectively, opposing the project and demanding that the plans undergo an inclusive process of public input.
In a University Senate meeting in January, faculty members questioned whether the school had complied with local laws and the city’s contractual obligations requiring public participation in the planning process.
Senate members, joined by a spattering of ASUO members, have alleged that the University has failed to satisfy provisions in the original RRP Intergovernmental Agreement, a 1986 document spelling out the conditions under which the park can be developed.
The document, ratified more than 20 years ago by the City of Eugene and the State Board of Higher Education in conjunction with the University, stipulated that construction in new “sectors of development” must be reviewed by the Riverfront Research Park Commission, which has not met in more than a decade.
Without the commission’s analysis, Connecting Eugene views continued construction efforts to be in direct violation of IGA provisions and Eugene City Code, which mandate public hearings to “study, investigate, analyze and make expert evaluations of proposals concerning development for the Riverfront Research Park.”
Because the oversight body has not met in more than a decade, continued construction efforts could be deemed unlawful and get the school into legal hot water.
Paul Cziko, a Connecting Eugene member and University graduate student, said the appeal makes a public hearing possible, which is a necessary fail-safe that insures continued riverfront construction efforts are in harmony with the spirit of the 1989 Conditional Use Permit.
“We would like the city to hold the required hearing before issuing this building permit,” Cziko said.
“Under Oregon State Law, whenever a public body makes a discretionary land-use decision, they are required to hold a public hearing.
The present appeal deals simply with whether the city made a discretionary land-use decision, and therefore whether a public hearing is required.”
In light of University President Richard Lariviere’s push for greater funding and governance autonomy under his New Partnership plan, Cziko said the president would be unwise to neglect calls by students and staff to halt development so all stakeholders can voice individual concerns.
“The campus community is overwhelmingly opposed to this project,” Cziko said.
“The President should be wary of driving this project through against wishes of the faculty and the students if he wants to build support and trust for his New Partnership plan.”
Allen Hancock, another Connecting Eugene member, said the entire contentious project could be remedied if University administrators only agreed to move the building site away from the fragile riverfront, closer to existing RRP facilities.
“The research park’s master plan specifically calls for development to occur south of the railroad tracks before construction occurs on the riverfront,” Hancock said.
“There’s ample room away from the river to construct the building for ORI now, while we work together to determine the best use for the riverfront after the 1980s plan expires next year.”