May 30, 2001 11:00 pm
LAND PLANNING: Community Development Director Mike Hyde, right, and Associate City Planner Mike Boquist discuss rezoning ideas at City Hall. (The Observer/KELLY WARD).
LAND PLANNING: Community Development Director Mike Hyde, right, and Associate City Planner Mike Boquist discuss rezoning ideas at City Hall. (The Observer/KELLY WARD).

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

While there appears to be plenty of land for both commercial and residential development in and around La Grande, city officials and some real estate people indicate rezoning is needed if the land is to be developed.

Weve got plenty of land, said Community Development Director Mike Hyde, but maybe its not in the right places.

Under one scenario, La Grande has enough undeveloped land within its urban growth boundary to build 996 more housing units than will be needed over the next 20 years to take care of anticipated growth.

That would be true if the city grows at a rate of .39 percent per year, according to a study presented by a consultant to the citys advisory commission on urban land use.

The citys population is 12,327, compared to 12,369 in 1995. It was 9,014 in 1960. The city estimates there are 14,015 people living within its urban growth boundary, that area in the city and around it which is expected to be developed over the next several years.

The consultant, The Benkendorf Associates Corporation of Portland, informed the local commission that if the growth rate were as high as 1 percent over the same period, the city UGB would still have all the land available for housing it would need plus 68 other parcels.

Hyde said if the city and surrounding area grows at the 1 percent rate it would be difficult to add any more residential land into the UGB.

The consultant reported that there are 436 vacant parcels totaling 856 acres in the city and the urban growth area. Of that, 575 acres is considered developable for various types of residences, both single family and multi-family or apartments.

Of the total land, 27 parcels are unbuildable because of such factors as being on steep slopes or too small, and 80 are considered committed, such as being parking lots or cemeteries, for example.

Most of the buildable sites in the city are in the hills on the south side of town, where building would be expensive because of the terrain, and in the area on the southeast edge of the city between the Union Pacific Railroad and Interstate 84. Hyde described the latter as not very desirable for future residential growth, saying it might be better suited to commercial or industrial use.

We need to look at other lands that we may need to designate for future residential growth, Hyde said. Weve got a lot of land, but were not happy with where it is located.

Broker Russell Lester of Coldwell Banker Lester Real Estate agreed.

We need new lots with residential zoning to keep the economy going and to fill the housing needs as people try to fulfill their dream of owning a home.

We also have a shortage of commercial land. The city needs to revamp its zoning. There are certain areas where its not economically feasible to develop. You have to have city services to an area (before it can be developed).

The consultant report for the city stated that under the .39 percent growth scenario, the city has 12 acres more than it needs for commercial use over the next 20 years, mostly in the Cove Avenue corridor, and it has 34 more acres of industrial zoned land than would be needed. Most of that is in the Gekeler-Highway 30 area.

Should the population grow at 1 percent a year over the next 20 years, there is 10 more acres of commercial land and 11 more of industrial land than the city would need, the report said.

The commercial and industrial lands may also need to be reconfigured, Hyde said.

For La Grande to maintain its status as a regional commercial center, we need more land for large-scale development. Our consultant is proposing we have two 40-acre commercial sites. We are doing the land study to try to justify to the state that we need these types of areas so we can compete.

He said the commission would look at the idea of rezoning some of the land between the railroad and the interstate to commercial.

Hyde said the city would try to justify to state land-use planners the need for 160 acres of industrial land, likely in two 80-acre parcels.

The Gekeler site is in the flood zone and has little flexibility, he said.

There is a perceived shortage of land in La Grande. People have had difficulty in finding land to develop, considering the costs of acquiring the land. But the study shows weve got a lot of land. Its just not in the right places or there are other factors involved when they want to develop.

The process of gaining state approval, called the periodic review of the citys Comprehensive Plan, includes public hearings before the planning commission at 5:35 p.m. June 12 and the city council at 6 p.m. June 20.

A periodic review assistance team will be involved in June, and any state agency can comment on the proposed changes during that time, Hyde said.

The methodology for the process has been approved by the state, Hyde said.

Were trying to build some flexibility for some growth into the plan, but we dont want it to be a self-fulfilling plan for slow growth.

Part of the process includes updating the citys public facilities plan to make sure the city can provide required services in the urban growth area, Hyde said.

This process is not related to the citys study of the possibilities of annexing the present area outside the city limits but within the urban growth boundary, Hyde said.