The state of Oregon has received national attention for its progressive approach to land use planning, which, with the help of an engaged citizenry, has contributed to some uniquely liveable and compact cities and towns, with bustling streets and walkable neighborhoods interwoven with restored natural areas. Even in fast-growing suburban areas, places like Orenco Station are much-studied and admired for their contributions to a new model of residential development that aims to diminish the influence of the private automobile by creating complete, walkable, and connected new communities with a mix of uses, housing types, parks, and schools.
While the personal commitment of many Oregonians to environmental protection has played an important role in the flourishing of this state’s sensible urban planning, many would claim that the state government has also contributed to influencing this kind of development across Oregon. Statewide land use and transportation regulations and urban growth boundaries are an official attempt to encourage higher densities close to revitalized urban centers to reduce traffic and thus state roadway budgets, and protect the valuable agricultural land and wild landscapes that make the state so distinctive.
Some private developers struggle with these mandates, while others embrace citizen and state goals and the tenets of New Urbanism to create unique new communities worthy of greater national attention. One such community is NorthWest Crossing, on the west side of Bend, in central Oregon.
Bend is a rapidly growing former mill town of almost 70,000 on the Deschutes River, attracting outdoor enthusiasts and retirees from across the country to its mild climate—little rain and frequent sunshine—and nearby mountain and desert landscapes with a range of top-quality skiing, hiking, golfing and fly-fishing. Its booming population has led to a healthy real estate market for both vacation homes and traditional single-family neighborhoods. The developers of NorthWest Crossing, Brooks Resources Corporation and Tennant Family LP, set out under the banner of a new company, West Bend Property Company, to accommodate some of the city’s surging growth in a carefully planned fashion by producing a seamless new neighborhood addition 1.5 miles from downtown Bend.
Brooks Resources is an outgrowth of Brooks-Scanlon, Inc., a large timber company that once dominated the Bend landscape with five mills, the last of which closed in 1994. With significant timberland holdings in and around Bend, the company recognized the potential to diversify into real estate development and found early success with the retirement and vacation community of Black Butte Ranch and other resort developments such as Mount Bachelor Village. In possession of almost 500 acres of relatively flat tree farm directly adjacent to the western edge of Bend, but within the city’s state-mandated urban growth boundary, West Bend PC decided in 1999 to develop the site in an innovative, environmentally responsive way.
Growth and Controversy
Bend’s explosive growth was not without its share of detractors. Many residents, alarmed at the rapid pace of the city’s expansion and increasing traffic congestion, pushed city planners and politicians to consider a moratorium on growth. Sensing that such a moratorium would challenge plans for their property, West Bend Property Company partners Mike Hollern, Kirk Schueler, and Mike Tennant became moderate brokers of a rigorous public conversation and active proponents of good civic design, sponsoring charrettes for challenging public projects (such as a new bridge crossing the Deschutes River), hosting Building a Better Bend lectures featuring national smart growth personalities, assisting with the expansion of the High Desert Museum, and locating their offices close to the city’s historic downtown in a renovated convent.
Forming an alliance or ‘consortium’ with other west-side developers, West Bend Property Company was able to ease residents’ and activists’ concerns with agreements to provide a coordinated network of well-landscaped streets and roundabouts, as well as schools, parks, and utility lines. Adding roundabouts, which were unprecedented in Bend (and Oregon, for that matter) avoided over-scaled five-lane, signalized intersections and associated right-of-way acquisition in mature city neighborhoods.
The consultant team for this project, hired after an invitational design competition which attracted high-profile urban design firms, was led by Portland’s Walker Macy Landscape Architects, which had a long-standing relationship with Brooks Resources dating from their plan for Black Butte Ranch. Fletcher Farr Ayotte Architects assisted with building massing and commercial parking studies, while “smart codes” and design guidelines were drafted by Urbsworks and civil engineering was produced by W&H Pacific’s creative and capable Bend office. Much of the team had collaborated on the earlier Orenco Station west of Portland, and had thus already tested some of the New Urbanist design techniques that the client was envisioning for NorthWest Crossing.
NorthWest Crossing, like many similar developments across the U.S., employs design principles derived from some of Bend's beloved older neighborhoods. These include a grid of interconnected narrow streets, a mix of architectural styles, and shops, parks, and schools within walking distance of most homes. The consultant team was familiar with these elements but found that some education was needed to convince city planners and other regulators of the benefits of such new methods. The developers and design team believed that adhering to these ‘new’ design principles would result in safe, attractive, walkable tree-lined streets and neighborhoods that would likely encourage greater social interaction and—even more importantly—would prove to be a compelling marketing tool, attracting a range of residents, from young couples to retirees.
A Design Rooted in Place
With a landscape architect as prime master planner, NorthWest Crossing was designed to respect and embody the site's natural landscape and mountain views. Trees and rimrock topography were painstakingly preserved wherever possible. Steep slopes were mapped and left as open land or conserved in easements on deep lots. An old pumice mine on the site will be transformed into a pond and creek, creating a new central open space amenity from despoiled land.
The urban form of the land plan was also influenced both by connections to existing adjacent streets and solar orientation. The plan, developed by Walker Macy’s Doug Macy, Mike Zilis, and David Aulwes, is organized around a large central circular park with mature pines ringed with higher-density homes, creating a distinctive heart to the community and a memorable identity. The plan begins with these placemaking elements, which contrasts with the conventional model of blanketing a parcel of land with lots then trying to carve out open space from the unbuildable remainder.
A detailed survey of the mature second-growth ponderosa pines on the site—an old tree farm—was integrated closely into the site planning process, with blocks, roads, and lot lines laid out to preserve as many large specimens as possible. As a result, mature trees throughout the community lend the impression of a much older, more established neighborhood. Many of the trees are on private lots where new homes have not only been designed to minimize grading and thus root disturbance in the well-drained volcanic soil, but also have often physically incorporated the trees into the design of eaves and porches.
Landscape designers who worked on the plan say that, in retrospect, they would have attempted much more preservation and restoration of native central Oregon high desert shrubs and grasses within the project, which perhaps would have better complemented the ponderosa pines than the grassy lawns and planter strips that now predominate.
A Grid of Streets, Alleys, and Trails
NorthWest Crossing has enjoyed phenomenal success due in part to its pedestrian-friendly environment and unique infrastructure elements that calm vehicle speeds. For example, a grid street system provides the best possible connectivity, while narrowed street sections, curb extensions, on-street parking bays, and roundabouts slow vehicle speeds and accommodate pedestrians throughout the development. Unsightly but necessary infrastructure facilities, such as transformers and utility boxes, are installed in alleys. An extensive network of trails and separated sidewalks between schools, neighborhood parks, commercial facilities, and employment accommodates pedestrians and cyclists.
Mt. Washington Drive, which links NorthWest Crossing with the rest of Bend’s west-side, was designed with a series of roundabouts and medians and was intended to be a parkway fronted with homes. The concept of serving these homes with parking on the boulevard met with significant resistance from City of Bend Public Works staff, however, which saw the route as a significant “collector” that, under conventional models of traffic engineering, is treated solely as a conduit for automobiles instead of an attractive, tree-lined and walkable slow-moving thoroughfare. Since then, city staff members have softened their position and are allowing ‘pockets’ for parking to be cut into the boulevard.
The fact that there is no homeowners' association is significant. The community’s public spaces—alleys, mid-block pedestrian walkways, streets, and parks—are all owned and maintained by the public. Consequently, there are no homeowner association dues (although the retail districts have small associations to maintain decorative lighting). As the president of Brooks Resources, Kirk Schueler states, “NorthWest Crossing makes the statement that a second form of government (i.e., homeowners association) does not have to be formed in order for residents to enjoy a higher standard of living.”
A Connected Community
NorthWest Crossing is intended to meet many of its residents' daily business, personal, and recreational needs without traveling outside of the community. Commercial buildings, schools, and parks are designed to serve local residents, as well as users from the larger regional area. A high school site was sold at a deep discount and an elementary school site was donated to the local district to encourage their location within the community. The completed schools, while not perfectly integrated into the community and surrounding streetscape, are located so that children can walk from their homes and residents can utilize playfields after school hours.
Wide, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, park benches, and attractive landscaping define NorthWest Crossing’s neighborhood center, offering what will eventually be a blend of restaurants, retail, offices, and second-story housing designed by a number of different architects. The neighborhood center, which due to market realities will not be fully built until there are sufficient “rooftops” to support the businesses, is currently home to the Sage Café and the NorthWest Crossing Sales Center.
The neighborhood center is designed to be an inviting place where residents can shop, take care of business, or meet friends at a sidewalk coffeehouse. A second, larger commercial area, located in the northeast corner of the project and adjacent to a major route into downtown Bend, will provide access to more regionally oriented retailers and services. A mixed-employment area is rapidly developing in a campus setting to serve research and development and environmentally sensitive light manufacturing businesses. It also provides employment opportunities for local residents.
With a range of public parks and an extensive trail system, one of the greatest benefits of living in NorthWest Crossing is its proximity to central Oregon's many outdoor recreational areas. Residents can bicycle or walk into downtown Bend and along the Deschutes River, on trails and dedicated lanes; or they can head west into the still-wild public fringe of the city. Just five minutes away is Shevlin Park, a 500-acre, city-managed forest with old-growth pines along clear Tumalo Creek, which tumbles from snow-capped volcanoes through the Deschutes National Forest.
The Portland firm of Urbsworks, led by Marcy McInelly, was commissioned to draft a Prototype Handbook for NorthWest Crossing. Inspired by the catalogs of house types produced in the early 1900s by companies like Sears Roebuck & Co., the Handbook is intended to provide a lasting “form-based” land use code and a basic architectural framework for the project.
An associated new Overlay Zone for the City of Bend code was crafted with the help of Catherine Morrow, hired as a consultant for NorthWest Crossing (while on leave from her job as a Deschutes County planner), to enshrine the Handbook’s vision in the public record. The most significant deviations from the City's existing code centered on street standards, auxiliary dwelling units, commercial parking standards, and specific overlay districts for mixed-use residential and live-work development. The changes made to the city code have been subsequently employed by other developments and enjoy broad acceptance in the community.
A Homebuilders’ Lottery
West Bend Property Company was established to develop a master-planned community, not strictly build homes, but it was also able to maintain strong control over the architectural feel of the project through a number of innovative mechanisms. The Prototype Handbook serves as the guiding document for all construction in the community. Homebuilders interested in purchasing lots were pre-qualified to ensure a high quality of prior experience and financial stability, as well as connections to the local economy. Then, small numbers of lots were allocated via lottery to each of the qualified builders (there were over twenty), and no builder had more than a couple of adjacent lots.
The result is a fascinating range of customized home designs on each block, with builders competing with each other to produce better homes that preserve trees and offer views, to gain the attention of passing buyers. The streetscape is thus much more reminiscent of a traditional neighborhood than more homogeneous conventional subdivisions built by production merchant builders. The homebuilding jobs and profits have also, for the most part, stayed in central Oregon.
NorthWest Crossing was designed to include a broad range of lots and housing types and sizes. Housing options include single-family homes, duplexes, accessory dwellings, townhomes and condominiums, multifamily apartments, cottages, and apartments above commercial/retail uses. This diversity was intended to lead to a community that better reflects the demographic composition of the area and would also allow people to continue to live in the neighborhood as their lifestyles and needs change. In terms of market absorption, NorthWest Crossing has been fortunate to mature in a period of unprecedented real estate demand in central Oregon, with higher prices helping to justify the decision to build what was once perhaps considered a higher-risk development venture.
But as West Bend PC director Kirk Schueler notes, “The builder pool format we used has resulted in a project that has an incredible diversity of residential architecture, but has failed to provide homes throughout a wide price range. Builders have not been restricted on how large a home they can build (except on lots less than 6,000 square feet), or limited to certain price points. This, in combination with the Bend real estate market, has created a much higher median price for homes than we imagined. Efforts to deliver affordable housing have not been successful.”
To ensure that NorthWest Crossing continues to be developed and maintained to the highest practical aesthetic standards, certain additional Architectural Guidelines have been established, based on Urbsworks Prototype Handbook. The Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs) is intended to protect existing homeowners and guide the construction of new homes and other buildings within NorthWest Crossing. As previously mentioned, there is no homeowners association. However, an application and approval process directs new designs through the Architectural Review Committee.
A large Oregon builder, Renaissance Homes is developing a unique live-work townhome project within the neighborhood. The 30 townhomes will consist of retail and commercial street-level spaces, with living space above. "These townhomes are modeled after a traditional type of space that you might normally find in a historic downtown area," said Robert Wood, vice president of Renaissance Homes.
The project is located in what will be the neighborhood center of the community. The location of the live-work units provides a transition from strictly commercial buildings into full residential areas. Each two-story townhome unit will follow the NorthWest Crossing neighborhood design guidelines and will consist of 600 square feet of commercial space on the lower level, with 1,300-1,600 square feet of living space above. Use of the commercial space will be restricted to services, such as a beauty shop, law office, or a small neighborhood store. Higher densities have been inserted into the project in other, subtle ways, such as the duplex shown above.
The community of NorthWest Crossing is also designed to support sustainable development practices beyond the obvious benefits of a walkable community with plentiful open space. The cornerstone of NorthWest Crossing's environmentally sensitive objectives is participation in the Earth Advantage program, which addresses building issues such as energy efficiency, recycling, building materials, landscaping, water, and indoor air quality.
"We see the Earth Advantage program as a critical component in fulfilling our commitment to sustainable building practices," said David Ford, General Manager of NorthWest Crossing. "While the majority of our existing homes are already Earth Advantage certified, we have now taken the next step by requiring adherence to these important standards."
"By taking the next step and requiring that all its homes adhere to Earth Advantage standards, NorthWest Crossing has shown its commitment to community growth that has less impact on the environment and important benefits for homeowners," added Duane Woik, new construction consultant for Earth Advantage. "Being involved with this project and watching it grow has been a great experience. We are glad to see a development make these steps toward environmental sustainability, as well as healthier indoor air, increased comfort, and more value for home buyers."
Homes will be asked to comply in the following areas:
As an additional sign of its commitment to sustainable building practices, the development team installed photovoltaic panels on the roof of the NorthWest Crossing Information Center.
A Smart Growth Model Matures
NorthWest Crossing provides a new model for sustainable urban growth in a rapidly growing region. The community is strikingly rooted in its landscape and urban context. Its financial success and public popularity is already inspiring other builders and developers to mimic the New Urbanist design philosophy that had not previously found many advocates in a place known more for resource extraction than protection. City and regional planners are able to point to NorthWest Crossing as a concrete example of some of the smart growth design principles they espouse in their plans.
Brooks Resources and partners have proceeded to pursue subsequent, larger central Oregon projects with the same design team:
For more information, visit NorthWest Crossing at www.NorthWestCrossing.com.
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