Update: Riverfront Conundrum
This article follows up on a previous Emerald cover story published in March 2018 about the University of Oregon’s plans for north campus area.
Members of the Eugene community have until 5 p.m. on Oct. 3 to comment on the University of Oregon’s permit application to develop the waterfront area near the Willamette River. After all the comments are read, response testimony to public comments can be submitted until Oct. 10. After that date, the UO will have a week to respond to all the submitted comments.
The Eugene hearings official will make their decision on Nov. 1 after all these comments and rebuttals have been collected and read.
Members of campus and the greater Eugene community have criticized the project since its conception. In a previous story by the Emerald, critics complained the athletic fields included in the permit application are an inappropriate use of the riverfront space, particularly if the UO uses artificial turf for the fields.
“Artificial turf has been shown to produce all kinds of toxins,” said Allen Hancock, Eugene resident and member of the Riverfront Restoration and Education Group.
On Aug. 1, 2017, the University of Oregon announced its “North Campus Conditional Use Permit Project,” setting guidelines for how the UO would utilize 77 acres of land adjacent to the Willamette River north of Franklin Boulevard for the next 30 years. Over a year later, at a public hearing on the evening of Sept. 12, 2018, a timeline was established for the decision on whether the permit will be approved by a Eugene hearings official.
Emily Eng, senior campus planner at the UO campus planning office, said her office is conducting a study this fall to evaluate possible locations for new athletic fields. If the permit is approved, the riverfront area will be included in that search.
“We already looked at options in the Framework Vision project,” Eng said. “But this study will explore in more detail what those options are on and off campus.”
Community members have also complained that the permit time frame of 30 years is too long and that the UO failed to give ample opportunity for the public to comment. Hancock said the duration of the proposed permit might be appropriate for the area south of the railroad tracks running through the riverfront property, but the area north of the tracks — which includes the riverfront — should require a separate permit.
“[The UO] is making their best guess about what they want to do,” Hancock said. “That is worrisome because it doesn’t provide any guarantee that the public will have any way of weighing in at some date in the future when [the UO] actually do[es] say, ‘Well this is what we want to do.’”
The UO is required to obtain this conditional use permit before any construction can begin on the university’s riverfront holdings. Even if the UO is granted the permit, Eng cannot guarantee any of the proposed redevelopment specified in the conditional use permit application will materialize. According to Eng, the purpose of the permit application is to demonstrate the maximum possible development in the future.
“Whether some of these projects happen or not, we don’t know,” Eng said. “But we anticipate that these are potential needs in the future. It is possible that some of what we are proposing will not happen.”
For those wishing to express their comments on the UO’s North Campus conditional use permit application, submit testimony to [email protected].
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