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MGA News

Portland development would transform southeast Bend

The Bend Bulletin

Proposal includes 851 housing units, retail space

April 19th 2007

Right now, the 33-acre swath of open desert that sits in the middle of southeast Bend doesn't look like much, even to the few drivers who give it a glance while they try to thread their way through traffic at the busy 15th Street and Wilson Avenue intersection.

Some of its tress are burnt and dead, apparently the result of arson fires that scourged them through the years.

Walk inside, and the land is littered with old furniture, a burned-out car and scraggly campsites.

Give it another six or seven years though, and $240 million or so worth of new construction, and the site will be hard to miss.

A Portland- and California-based development group, teaming with a local Realtor and a local builder, are ready to file plans for 15th & Wilson, a condominium, townhome, office and retail project that could transform the neighborhood's suburban feel.

"It's almost like a downtown for the southeast side," Coldwell Banker-Morris Realtor Sandy Garner said.

Assuming its developers can guide it through the city's planning rules, the central core of the project will be a $24 million, 1,100-space underground parking garage, designed to tuck cars away so pedestrians can wind their way through ground-floor shops, open parks and Northwest-style buildings, Garner said.

Its 88,000 square feet of commercial space will be designed to attract the kinds of shops that could attract neighbors on foot, Garner said, including - possibly - a bike shop, a pharmacy, a health club, a mailing service, restaurants, a wine shop, cafes, a day care, and a 16,000- or 18,000-square-foot grocery store.

Footpaths will link with the Larkspur Trail that currently connects the neighborhood and surrounding parks to Pilot Butte, according to drawings done by Portland-based Myhre Group Architects.

All of the development's 851 housing units will be attached to one another, in some form, land use and planning consultant Deborah McMahon said, but the buildings won't all be the same size.

The tallest buildings, with shops in the ground floor and condos on four to five stories above, will curve through lower land in the center, Garner said. Three-story townhomes, designed with "live-work" spaces for offices in the lowest floors, like the Mill Quarter townhomes in the Old Mill District, will form the next tier, with shorter buildings lining the edges.

The shorter, lodge-style buildings on the periphery, along with trees in the site's green spaces, will shield the view of the larger buildings from existing neighborhoods on the south, east and north, McMahon said.

The commercial center, Garner said, will include a community center, probably complete with a performing arts hall "as sort of a gift to the community."

Grouping all of the project's housing units into attached buildings will open more green space between them, McMahon said. And the site's two dominant features - a pair of multi-acre-sized volcanic bulges that rise 20 feet above the nearby streets - are protected from building by the city's environmental preservation rules.

The project is expected to generate about 640 extra vehicle trips into the surrounding streets at peak hours, McMahon said. Wilson and 15th Street will get a new roundabout to help handle the load, and she said the developers expect the city to ask for help on nearby Reed Market Road.

The condos and townhomes are expected to go from less than $200,000 into the $800,000 range, Garner said.

More like downtown

Garner, a lifelong Bend resident, said she hopes the project mimics some of the features of old-time Bend's downtown, where the town's wealthiest residents lived within blocks of little mill homes, and everybody walked to the commercial core.

Right now, the eastside neighborhoods around 15th Street are "a sea of roofs" with no easy access to shopping or restaurants, Garner said, but the new project's shops and paths might take the people out their cars and keep them from needing to leave their neighborhoods - more like neighborhoods on the west side.

She got the inspiration for the 15th and Wilson project during a trip to a Mexican vacation condo her family has visited every year for 15 years. Admiring the instant community the Mexican village encourages - mostly because people walk and mix in the streets and in the shops - she attracted Trinity Development Venture President Dominic Chan to the southeast Bend site.

Chan, an executive who has directed a Portland-based wood products company and a Hong Kong-based manufacturing company with operations in mainland China, and one of his development group's LLCs paid more than $12 million for the raw land in May, according to the county tax records.

The project will have to negotiate a complicated path through the city's planning rules. Like the neighborhoods that surround it on three sides, the site is currently designated for medium-density housing on the city's general planning maps, McMahon said, which means the general plan will have to be amended and several zone changes will have to be approved before the developers' master plan can be built.

So far, the project has drawn mixed reviews from its neighbors, said Wyatt Newman, a nearby resident and former land use committee chairman for the Larkspur Neighborhood Association.

Some are worried about the traffic, Newman said. Some are afraid the tall commercial building will stick out too much.

On the other hand some, like Newman, a former Hillsboro planning commissioner, are looking forward to it.

"I would even use the term that it's kind of a jewel for the neighborhood," Newman said. "... In 24 years on planning commissions, I've seen many plans. And this one was impressive."

If the city's approvals come, construction could begin next year on townhomes along the site's southern edge, along with the underground parking and commercial district at its core, said project manager Steve Buettner, president and owner of SunWest Builders. It will take six to seven years and somewhere between $240 million and $250 million to finish the whole thing, Buettner estimated, but when it's finished - assuming that it's economically successful - it might encourage new ways to approach dense home construction in other areas of town as well.

Trinity Development's partners are aware of the risk of building something that's unusual for the area - and particularly one that is cut by large, protected, unbuildable swaths, said Ping Sheng, Trinity's Los Angeles-based controller, "but we see a big potential in Central Oregon. Especially in Bend."

Buettner, meanwhile, said he's excited to build something different amid the tight new developments that are spreading across the city's east side.

"We do a lot of projects, but this one is more than just doing some vertical construction," Buettner said. "It's something you can look back on in 20 years and be proud you were a part of it. Because the tendency out there right now is sprawl."