Prineville sets goals for development

City’s new comprehensive plan emphasizes mixed-use projects

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: April 24. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – The ideal neighborhood in the Prineville of the future should have homes, shops, parks, schools and jobs within walking distance, preserving the city’s “small-town feel” even as it continues to grow in population.

That’s according to Prineville’s new comprehensive plan, which the City Council gave final approval to at its last meeting. Prine-ville, which has operated under Crook County’s comprehensive plan since the late 1970s, had been one of the few incorporated cities in Oregon without its own planning guide.

County and city planners have spent more than a year laboring over the 150-page comprehensive plan for Prineville, which will provide a rubric for development in the city. But the adoption of the plan also has repercussions for the average citizen, home builder or developer in the community, officials said.

Deborah McMahon, Prineville’s interim planning director, said the goal of the comprehensive plan is to reflect the wishes of current residents about how the city should grow in the future.

Now that it has its own plan, Prineville officials will be able to focus on the growth needs of a city rather than the more rural county.

“City planning primarily relates to the urban environment and accommodating growth and making sure that we have urban uses within the urban growth boundary,” McMahon said. “That’s the primary difference between cities and counties, is that urban development is supposed to occur within the UGB.”

To that end, the plan – which applies to the entire UGB area – encourages residential, commercial and industrial development, but sets out goals and values to guide the growth. They include general ideas like creating “residential zones that include amenities promoting family living environments and safe places for children to play (and) walk to school,” as well as more specific policies, like “Neighborhood lots shall be designed to be within 1,200 feet of open spaces, parks or other recreational areas.”

Unlike the county’s plan, the city’s is a “policy document” that mainly includes guidelines about development rather than specific planning regulations. The goals and programs enumerated in the plan will be implemented in the future through Prineville’s zoning ordinances.

“It’s an updated expression of the community’s values,” McMahon said. “What we do with those values is create policies, guidelines and programs so that we can implement in our regulations the kinds of things that the community has said that they want to see.”

For example, a statement in the comprehensive plan that “neighborhoods shall contain employment/shopping/service opportunities located in areas that can be served by transit and easily accessed by residents in the neighborhood” could be codified in new zoning regulations. The planning commission and City Council might also require certain features to be present in the master plans for new subdivisions.

And for larger-scale objectives, like statements encouraging commercial projects with businesses on the ground floor and housing on upper floors, the City Council could provide incentives to businesses to build those kinds of structures. The plan provides guidelines for the council and planning commission in reviewing proposed developments.

Pedestrian accessibility and safety in the downtown area, as well as alternate forms of transportation, also form an important goal. One section of the plan requires commercial and industrial areas to provide “adequate off-street parking for bicycles.”

The mixed-use model

Now that the council has approved the plan, McMahon said, city staff will begin writing the specific regulations that will enforce the goals laid out in the comprehensive plan. The city solicited residents’ input on the plan through community workshops, surveys, pamphlets and Prineville’s Web site, according to the text of the plan.

Because of that feedback, McMahon said, the document should reassure Prineville residents that the city will continue to grow in a way that maintains its historical identity.

“I think the most important thing is that their expressed values are going to part of decision making in the future so that we can avoid sprawl and we can avoid the negative effects of growth that people have clearly said they want to make sure are minimized as the community grows,” she said.

But many parts of the comprehensive plan would seem to apply more to developers than to individual homeowners. For example, a section on residential neighborhoods includes the requirement that a master plan be developed “for all parcels and sites over 5 acres in size” and includes the recommendation that the city “provide incentive programs when at all possible to encourage affordable housing in new neighborhood development.”

The plans for IronHorse, a mixed-use subdivision currently under construction in Prineville, fit into the model of “complete communities” promoted in Prineville’s comprehensive plan. Randy Jones, the project manager for IronHorse, said the development already has been approved, so the new plan will not affect it. IronHorse could eventually add about 2,900 homes over 15 to 20 years.

“I think IronHorse probably complements the comprehensive plan,” he said. “(The plan) could possibly, I suppose, represent a challenge to those in the future that would want to propose more conventional subdivisions.”

Jones attended the City Council meetings and workshops dealing with the plan, and said he has read all of the document. He added that he does not think most builders or developers are familiar with their community’s comprehensive plans.

“I think most, let’s say, building contractors probably never read it,” he said. “But it is a very important municipal policy document – it guides ordinances, it guides direction, it guides tenor of discussion, (and) it can direct design. The good ones are the ones that actually get read and actually get recognition and incorporated into (development).”

In the past, city planners have cited the community controversy over IronHorse’s potential building on Barnes Butte, a natural landmark in the city, as one instance when it would have been helpful for Prineville to have its own comprehensive plan. If a plan had been in place, the city might have decided to prohibit or restrict development on the butte.

A ‘dynamic document’

Crook County Judge Scott Cooper said he thinks “95 percent of residents, voters and taxpayers have no clue what a comp plan is, and a certain number of elected officials have no idea what a comp plan is.”

Now that the City Council will have the authority over planning, rather than consulting with the County Court on comprehensive plan issues, Cooper said, the two municipalities could take divergent paths in dealing with growth. The state goals that local plans have to conform with emphasize preservation for counties, “whereas the cities tend to be very growth-oriented and development-oriented.”

“The City Council now gets to be the final say on how growth is going to occur and how much growth is going to occur in years to come,” he said. “Unfortunately, county residents are impacted by city decisions, and they don’t have any electoral say on who sits on the City Council, so county residents are going to need to pay attention to what the City Council is doing.”

Cooper added that one of the problems with comprehensive plans is that they can quickly become out of date. The text of the plan says that it is a “dynamic document” that can be amended in the future, but the state Land Conservation and Development Commission has to approve all changes. After the Crook County Court reviews the plan at its next meeting, it will then be forwarded to LCDC for authorization.

“(A comprehensive plan) doesn’t have any impact on you until houses start showing up in the field next door that you always assumed would be a field, and that’s when you discover that there is such a thing as a comp plan, and that’s when you wish you had paid more attention,” Cooper said. “They are not very interesting and, you know, to some degree they’re not very relevant, especially as they age.”

Cooper said that several parts of the county’s plan are out of date. But McMahon said she thinks the city’s plan should avoid those problems because it offers general goals, and the City Council can easily change the specific ordinances concerning development.

“I think the most common theme of the comprehensive plan is that our citizens have clearly expressed they want to maintain an enhanced small-town livability, and that the values they hold dearest include having quality neighborhoods and reducing the negative effects of growth,” she said.

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