Capitalizing on Capital Hill

On May 22, the Eugene Planning Commission held a public forum for a final appeal regarding a proposed housing project on the top of the underdeveloped but high-value Capital Hill near Hendricks Park.

A near-capacity crowd filled Harris Hall in the Lane County Public Works building for the forum. Roughly two dozen citizens wearing red and white buttons and stickers printed with “No Capital Hill PUD” signed up to voice their opposition to the development, far outnumbering those in support.

The proposed development would build approximately 35 single-family homes along Capital Drive in the Fairmont neighborhood. The development was first proposed by the Dreyers — who own 14 acres of land on top of the hill — in 2014. According to planning documents, the original proposal called for 28 mansions to be built on the hill, which drew intense pushback from two neighborhood groups: the Fairmont Neighbors and the adjacent Laurel Hill Valley Citizens. The Dreyers view the current proposal — which calls for smaller homes and improvements to the roads and utilities on the hill — as a compromise with the neighborhood associations.

The Hearings Official for the City of Eugene, Virginia Lucker, approved the development, known as the Capital Hill Planned Unit Development (PUD), on April 20. Both the applicants for the development, Tom and Cynthia Dreyer, along with the joint neighborhood committee opposed to the plan, filed appeals immediately after Lucker announced her decision. Bill Kloos, a land use lawyer who represents the Dreyers, testified during the hearing that city representatives used unfair zoning standards when they struck out portions of the development application.

“The South Hills study is a set of squishy-soft standards for the hills,” Kloos argued, referring to the section of city code governing development in the South Hills. “The city has not adequately explained why we are not entitled to this statute, and discretionary standards are not sufficient to deny this claim.”

Cynthia Dreyer also testified during the hearing in response to Lucker’s denial of the proposed fence along the Ribbon Trail, a popular walking path that leads from Hendricks Park to 30th Avenue. To Dreyer, the fence would provide a sense of security for those who might live in the development.

“We’ve had about five break-ins, and maybe four or five car break-ins,” Dreyer said. “And we feel that the property owners have a right and need for some kind of delineation there.”

Those in opposition cite several issues with the proposed development. Jason Brown, an associate professor at the University of Oregon who testified while holding an easel with a topographical map of the development site, claimed that the Dreyers’ plans for Capital Hill don’t follow Eugene land use laws.

“The cutting down of trees is not just a neighborhood issue, it’s a city of Eugene issue.”

–Elizabeth Langston
South Hills resident

“No one on our committee is suggesting that the land on the entire site be preserved,” Brown said. “It is our contention that [the development] doesn’t meet the code, and that’s what we’re here to say.”

Others, including long-time South Hills resident Elizabeth Langston, testified that the environmental impacts of the development outweigh the benefits of new housing on Capital Hill.

“The cutting down of trees is not just a neighborhood issue, it’s a city of Eugene issue,” Langston said. “The trees in this area provide cover for the trees in Hendricks Park, and if those trees are exposed, it will lead to degradation and ruin.”

The Eugene Planning Commission has planned deliberations on the two appeals on June 4 and 12, and must have a final decision prepared by June 14. Any further appeals by the two opposing groups will be heard by the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals in Salem, though it is not clear if either group will challenge the EPC’s decision.