‘Ducks’ dabble in development

The University of Oregon may submit a land use application to the city of Eugene this month for a potential expansion.

According to the University of Oregon website, the application, if approved by the city, would allow the university to use approximately 77 acres of land between the Willamette River and the railroad tracks for general campus usage.

The application is a proposal for a land permit, Emily Eng, senior planner and project manager at UO, said. The permit awaits city approval but would allow the university to prepare for “potential [enrollment] growth or any other need related to the university,” such as academic, research, student housing, administrative and recreational ones.

“We’re basically looking into the future,” Eng said. Even if the permit is approved by the city, the potential development and improvements would happen over the course of decades.

Eng also acknowledged the concerns some may have regarding the effect such a proposal would have on the Riverfront Park Special Area Zone’s natural environment. The natural features of the area have shaped the proposal, concentrating most of the potential development south of the tracks and not along the river, Eng said.  “Riparian restoration and environmental protection” would play major roles in the plan.

“This land is in a special place,” Eng said. “It’s along the river, which the university and community really care about. We’re looking at the river first.”

Bitty Roy, an ecology and evolution professor at the University of Oregon, joined the campus expansion planning committee because she was concerned about what would happen with the river if such an expansion were to happen. Roy was the only committee member who voted against the potential plan, she said.

Roy also said that the current planning process ignores much of the input from the university community even though hundreds of students and instructors have signed petitions in the last 15 years in favor of protecting the river and its surrounding environment.

This area could be restored and protected, she said, as well as continue being used for classes.

Current students and instructors use the area for various courses, she said, including pollination ecology, systematic botany, geology and environmental science classes.

There is strong support from the athletic department at the university for the construction of at least one field, she said. Another field would be used for campus expansion.

“This area is so structurally and ecologically important,” she said. “Why put bright lights and essentially parking lots there?”

The artificial turfs that the expansion could include, she added, would especially harm the river with chemicals.

“20 years from now,” Roy said, “people will be wondering, ’Why did we do this?’”

The land use application has yet to be submitted to the city for approval. A permit hearing is expected to take place from June to July this year.