Corvallis voters overwhelmingly rejected annexation of the Sather property twice in the last ten years, first in 2001 and again in 2002. Back then it was called “The Village at Oak Creek.” Now, a decade later, the Sathers have teamed up with another out-of-state developer, hoping to build “The Retreat at Oak Creek”— with even more buildings and more units, for more students and more rent. The “village” has morphed into a “retreat’!
The Sather property is currently within Benton county, but not within the city limits of Corvallis. If the owners want to develop it without annexation, Benton county will let them build one dwelling per 5-acre parcel. The property becomes much more valuable if annexed into Corvallis. In 2006 the city implemented the Comprehensive Plan which shows where the city wants to grow through annexation and how each potential annexed parcel will be zoned. The Sather property was targeted by the city of Corvallis to require medium-high density development (12 – 20 dwelling units per acre).
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
If the annexation is approved by the voters, there may be no public input before the construction of this massive student apartment complex unless the Georgia-based developer asks for zoning variances or exceptions. Landmark Properties specializes in this type of development and has hired local and out-of-state businesses to help prepare a formal development plan that probably would not ask for variances in order to speed up construction and avoid more community feedback in the matter. This appears to be a trend in Corvallis as we see new student housing complexes being built without input from local citizens.
Landmark Properties’ website states that the development is “Coming soon!” and a June 6, 2012 Gazette Times article states, “If all goes well, construction could start in the summer of 2013 and the complex could open the following fall.”
WHAT WOULD THE DEVELOPMENT LOOK LIKE?
The only information we have to go on is the non-binding General Land Use Plan (GLUP) that was submitted with the annexation application. While the developer, the Planning Commission, and the City Council clearly stated that the GLUP is a non-binding representation of how the property might be developed if annexed, it is noted in the annexation application that:“While no detailed development or subdivision plan is being submitted in conjunction with this application, the severe constraints placed on the site … will result in few options for a workable development plan for the site. In fact, it is safe to conclude that the detailed development plan actually submitted for this site will not vary substantially from the General Land Use Plan included in the application.” (pg. 46, Sather Annexation Application, Revised May 4, 2012)
Reports on the specific number of students the complex would accommodate vary. Landmark Properties says about 650; the GLUP drawing submitted with the application depicts 39 buildings with 893 bedrooms. We have no way as citizens to determine the actual number of students that might be housed in the Retreat at Oak Creek.
To put these numbers in perspective, the GLUP drawing depicts a project that is almost triple the size of Seventh Street Station which just opened on Western Blvd at 7th Street. This information will help you visualize how massive a project the developer is planning to build on this pristine Sather site.
HOW CORVALLIS’ LAND DEVELOPMENT CODE (LDC) APPLIES TO THIS DEVELOPMENT
To make matters worse, the city has no special code requirements for student housing complexes.
Parking. The LDC requires the same number of parking spaces as it would for a family housing complex, plus no additional guest parking requirement. There will be even fewer parking spaces than current code requires because the developer can receive “credits” (build fewer parking spaces) by providing more uncovered and covered bicycle parking spaces than mandated in the LDC.
The city is currently reviewing Collaboration Corvallis’s recommendation to increase parking requirements for four- and five-bedroom units (from 2.5 spaces required for each, to 3.5 and 4.5 spaces required, respectively). Unfortunately, if this annexation is approved on November 6th, the Retreat at Oak Creek would likely push to have all permitting completed before the new requirement is enacted.
Traffic. Landmark Properties and their paid experts have stated repeatedly that they expect a significant percentage of their student residents will walk, bus and/or ride their bicycles to class. Responsible Development Corvallis disputes that assumption and believes it is one factor that has resulted in flawed traffic projections. Another factor that puts the traffic study in question is the method used for projecting “trip generation.” Their calculations give equal weight to an apartment unit with one bedroom (one car) and a unit with a 5-bedrooms (likely 5 cars).
DO WE NEED THIS DEVELOPMENT?
We have been told that the vacancy rate in Corvallis is too low, and we certainly don’t want to negate anyone’s struggle in finding appropriate housing in a difficult market. However, while the city’s vacancy rate has been reported to be 1% – 2%, those traditional calculations do not reflect the latest student housing complexes that have opened, nor do they take into account an important factor in the rental market or the newest style of construction.
The LDC defines a family, in part, as “a group of not more than five adults unrelated by blood or marriage, living together in a dwelling unit.” This has become a common practice in single family houses near OSU. In addition, the current trend in student housing construction in Corvallis is complexes with 4- or 5-bedroom apartments and 4 or 5 separate leases. Yet, each house and apartment, regardless of the possible number of residents, is weighted equally when calculating the city’s vacancy rate.
We need to reassess the need for yet another off-campus, dorm-style development until we see the effects of all of the current and upcoming construction: Seventh Street Station adds 309 bedrooms; Tyler Street Townhomes has 215 bedrooms. The Harrison Street apartments will have 221 bedrooms, and Franklin Plaza will add 112 bedrooms to the mix. Campus Crest is within city limits and has a plan for close to 800 bedrooms currently under review with the Planning Commission. Also, the University will require freshmen to live on campus beginning in 2013 and is planning to build a new 300-bed dormitory.
We enter the 2012-2013 university year with an abundance of “for rent” signs in the neighborhoods around the OSU campus. A ten bedroom duplex that just replaced a small house on 9th street near Washington Street had a vacancy sign posted one week before classes start.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Student debt is rapidly approaching one trillion dollars. Tuition continues to spiral up. No one is addressing what will happen to these complexes and Corvallis in general when the current student population bubble bursts either due to an economic recovery that brings jobs or when student loans are no longer readily available.
If OSU enrollment drops (and it does cycle over the years), this development, along with some of those mentioned above, could sit empty—hundreds of apartments built specifically for college students, suitable only for college students.
We citizens have had little impact on the annexation process to date and now we are being asked to approve the annexation, but not a definite development plan.
We are up against a developer who sees gold and can spend a lot of money trying to sway the voters in favor of the annexation; in fact, they have hired a public relations firm from Portland and are “gearing up for a public relations blitz to persuade voters to annex.” (GT 9/5/12)
We are convinced that if we all work together we can defeat the annexation and the massive student housing development planned for the property. Please enlist your friends, relatives and associates to defeat the Sather Annexation … VOTE NO on Measure 02-80.