Capstone and Conte Settle for $260,000

That’s not rain outside; it’s the 1,200-resident Capstone student housing development moving full steam ahead now that the company has settled with neighborhood advocate Paul Conte for $260,000 in exchange for Conte dropping land-use and planning-related legal appeals. Conte and two other fund managers will use much of the money for improvements to the areas around the student housing project.

Conte says that he’ll keep $50,000 to reimburse himself for legal fees, a professional transportation analysis and filing fees, but $210,000 will be deposited into an escrow account for community benefits managed by Conte, City Councilor George Brown and Carolyn Jacobs of the South University Neighborhood Association. Conte says that he turned down an offer to take money directly and never intended to benefit financially from his appeals. “I spent somewhere at about $55,000 on this thing plus or minus a thousand or two,” Conte says. “At the end of all this, I will be out a few thousand bucks.”

With the money, Conte says that the escrow managers will try to accomplish the recommendations that Eugene Community Advisory Team wanted written into Capstone’s Multiple-Unit Property Tax Exemption (MUPTE) when the Eugene City Council passed it in May 2012. He says that helping Olive Plaza residents who will need air filtration during the summer construction is at the top of his list. “One of my first priorities is to work with residents there to do what we can to mitigate the kinds of impacts that may arise from dust and noise during construction,” he says.

Conte also wants to help make nearby Charnel Mulligan City Park (at 16th and Charnelton) better. “There’s been a lot of abuse of the park through people spending time there and urinating, defecating, breaking things, exchanging drugs, using drugs and leaving drug paraphernalia — serious stuff.” He says that the city is working on getting grants to improve the design and layout of the park, and the escrow account might be used to get the community, including the nearby students, engaged in activities at the park, deterring drug-related usage.

The third purpose of the funding is to look at bicycle and pedestrian safety and any changes the Capstone project might necessitate, he says.

Conte says that the city manager, mayor and city staff rushed the MUPTE process, which unfairly tilted it in favor of developers at the expense of the community. He says that other communities dealing with Capstone got more community benefits than Eugene did, and the city should have slowed down and negotiated. “I can’t say this for certain, but from early discussions I had with Capstone’s principal and learning what they’ve done for other communities, I think they would have gladly done that as part of doing business,” Conte says.

The city manager did not reply to a request for comment by press time.

One objection to the deal emailed to the mayor and City Council compared the settlement to extortion, and another decried the power of neighborhood organizations. Conte says his actions weren’t as a part of any neighborhood organization.

MUPTE could be changing in the near future. Conte says, “Looking forward, however, Councilor Brown has indicated an interest to other councilors in an ordinance that would suspend MUPTE entirely for new applications until council can really carefully examine what they can get out of these very large tax exemptions.”

Conte cites Portland as a place that uses tax breaks to accomplish community benefits by capping the exemption and requiring benefits such as low-income housing to qualify for the exemption (see for more). “If we can’t do those, one alternative is to just get rid of it. I don’t think we’re getting the benefits out of the current program, especially not being used to produce more student housing when the market’s already flooded,” he says.

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