(Re)building communityPosted April 23rd, 2012 by raskausn
[Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 22, 2012} – On the official zoning map of Corvallis, Oregon State University appears as a big blue blob framed by a checkerboard pattern of multicolored rectangles.
Many of the blocks adjacent to campus are tinted brown, designating high-density residential zoning. The effects of that zoning have been playing out for years, as single-family homes and small apartment houses have gradually given way to rows of student townhouse rentals and ever-larger apartment blocks.
For Charlyn Ellis, the scope of this rapidly accelerating transformation became clear in January, when the World War II-era Wilson Woods Apartments on Northwest 29th Street were torn down to make way for a 215-bedroom townhouse complex.
With wave after wave of OSU enrollment inundating the local rental market, pressure for new student housing continues to build, leaving many of the older neighborhoods around campus ripe for high-density redevelopment.
“If you talk to OSU and the city about where students will live,” Ellis said, “we’re in (the path of) the wrecking ball.”
Rather than wait for the wrecking ball to strike again, Ellis and other preservation-minded area residents decided to push back with a new group called Citizens for Livable Corvallis.
With about 25 active participants, the fledgling organization has no officers and is still defining its mission, but its basic goal is to preserve established neighborhoods as much as possible — not just near the university but all over Corvallis.
“We have representatives from every neighborhood association in the flat part of town, and we’re going up the hills,” said Ellis, a high school English teacher who’s active in the Chintimini Neighborhood Association. “We’re trying to get people from all the key groups who can pass on information.”
Among other things, Citizens for Livable Corvallis advocates adaptive reuse rather than demolition of older buildings, new construction that is compatible with surrounding structures, solving neighborhood parking issues and addressing conflicts between college students and older residents.
Members meet periodically and communicate regularly via Facebook and a lively Google Groups account, sharing information about pending teardowns and construction projects.
They also send delegates to observe City Council and Planning Commission meetings wearing CLC buttons and have begun working on ways to influence local policy. Several members have been appointed to serve on work groups of the OSU-Corvallis collaboration project, a long-term effort to address town and gown issues.
“I think that’s why this group formed,” said Lori Stephens, an architect who testified before the Planning Commission against plans for a 279-bedroom student apartment complex on Northwest Harrison Boulevard.
“Let’s not just say, ‘Well, that’s just the way it is — we can’t do anything about it.’ Let’s see what can be done.”
And the organization wants to see Oregon State University take a more active role in addressing the issues arising from skyrocketing enrollment growth.
Eric Hansen, an associate director of University Housing & Dining Services, said OSU officials are working on it, but there are no easy solutions.
For instance, his agency has legislative approval to build a new residence hall. But with 250 vacant dorm beds right now, it’s holding off until demand picks up.
“What we are best at is first-year student housing,” Hansen said. “Typically we have about 80 percent of first-year students living on campus.”
The housing agency is exploring ways to boost its freshman numbers still further while expanding offerings that will appeal to upperclassmen. Steps under consideration include requiring all freshmen to live on campus, holding down cost increases for dorm rents and meal plans, and grouping older students in “cohorts” in designated residence halls.
“We probably agree with a lot of the ideas and principles of Corvallis community groups,” Hansen said. “The question is, how do we get there from here?”
Beierle said the university just needs to get more creative about building on-campus housing that is cheaper and less dorm-like.
“There’s a tremendous amount of design talent on campus. They could come up with student housing that meets the students’ needs at a reasonable price,” Beierle said.
“I’m persuaded that no matter what the problem is, there’s a way to design a solution.”
Ultimately, Citizens for Livable Corvallis wants the university to thrive, said Courtney Cloyd, a retired Forest Service geologist who’s active in the Central Park Neighborhood Association. But CLC also wants OSU to be a good neighbor to its host city, and the organization intends to make sure that happens.
“Without this kind of drive, without this kind of pressure from the community, OSU isn’t going to take the initiative,” Cloyd said.
“They’re going to be as good a neighbor as we make them be.”
Read the full article by Corvallis Gazette-Times reporter Bennett Hall.