On The Waterfront

The city of Springfield is asking developers to submit proposals for riverfront development, and river advocates are concerned

The Willamette River runs for 187 miles, starting in Lane County and flowing into the Columbia near Portland. But there’s about 450 feet of that riverfront in Glenwood that the city of Springfield is inviting developers to send in proposals for. 

The Glenwood area is home to one of the last plots of riverfront land available for development, the city of Springfield writes in a request for qualifications (RFQ), a letter inviting developers to propose projects on the property. 

After the Willamette Riverkeeper sent two letters of concern about Glenwood riverfront development, the city of Springfield says it’s planning to include the local river advocate group during the developer vetting process. Before the city made this decision, the riverkeeper had criticized the RFQ and how it wasn’t encouraging developers who have the expertise and knowledge to build a project that can protect the riparian ecosystem, and that it may not have met the expectations set by the 2014 Glenwood Refinement Plan. 

“They can’t use the river, this public resource, to market the property to try and get developers in there and then turn around and not follow the laws there to protect the river,” says Willamette Riverkeeper staff attorney Eli Holmes. 

Springfield spokesperson Amber Fossen tells Eugene Weekly that city staff is working on a response to the Willamette Riverkeeper and that engaging with them is “important to us and is our first focus.” As EW went to press, the city has not provided its response to the nonprofit. 

The Springfield Economic Development Authority (SEDA) public committee owns nine acres of land sandwiched between three other plots owned by other organizations, according to the RFQ. To the north is 7.69 acres that could be a new Eugene Emeralds baseball stadium — the Ems General Manager Allan Benavides tells EW it’s a leading site being considered. To the south is a 1.27 acre plot owned by Homes For Good, Lane County’s affordable housing agency, and then 8.14 acres owned by Roth and Roth, LLC, which plans to work with whichever developer wins the bid for SEDA’s property.  

After turning down two unsolicited proposals — one of which was an 20-story hotel/conference center with an affordable housing component and the other a sports complex — SEDA decided to pursue the RFQ process. SEDA consists of the mayor, Springfield city councilors and Lane County Commissioner Joe Berney. 

The Willamette Riverkeeper first sent a letter to the city about the RFQ on June 14. In the letter, the group said it was concerned about the lack of environmental criteria and provided possible values the committee should weigh when considering developer proposals. The values included prioritizing developers who have experience with the Clean Water Act, river access from Glenwood since there currently is none and protections for threatened species (such as salmonids) on the Endangered Species List.

 On Aug. 30, the city of Springfield released its RFQ, and on Sept. 10 the Willamette Riverkeeper sent another letter. The river advocacy group wrote that the city’s RFQ doesn’t explicitly call for developers with experience in working with riverfront development projects, open space, stormwater management, safe public access to the river or habitat restoration. 

Holmes says they were hoping the RFQ would have incorporated some of the concerns they raised — but it didn’t. If a developer is required to meet certain environmental criteria, it would be helpful for them to know that and could help attract the right one, she says. “The city of Springfield needs to be clear about the environmental requirements that any project on this site needs to adhere to,” she adds. “Those developers need to demonstrate that they can meet the environmental criteria that the city is required to adhere to.” 

In the Willamette Riverkeeper’s Sept. 10 letter, the organization also offered to help vet proposals and develop questions to ask developers. 

Springfield City Councilor and SEDA member Leonard Stoehr says the city hired a consultant when SEDA considered the two unsolicited projects earlier in 2021. Since developers will likely have their own environmental specialist to promote their project, he says it’s important for SEDA to have a consultant to “provide a clear-eyed view” of the project’s potential environmental impact. 

One of the issues with the RFQ, Holmes says, is the city’s statement that the new development will have three new stormwater outputs that run directly into the Willamette River. “We care about water quality. We care about pollutants that should not be in the water,” she says. 

Stoehr says he’s also concerned about the runoff into the Willamette River. He adds that SEDA should have a provision to include environmental impact in the proposal so consideration should be given to the organization that will work to protect the river. 

Holmes says runoff shouldn’t go immediately to the Willamette. Instead, water should stay on site, where it’s recycled and used for greenery before discharging to the river. And that’s what’s been laid out in the Glenwood Refinement Plan. 

Rather than having explicit language about preferring developers with riverfront development experience, the RFQ refers developers to the Glenwood Refinement Plan, Willamette Riverkeeper writes in the Sept. 10 letter. Only having a reference to the Glenwood Refinement Plan document, and having it be the only determining factor whether a developer is or is not suitable, is an incomplete approach to the RFQ process and is a disservice to the Willamette River, the organization writes. 

The Glenwood Refinement Plan, Holmes says, outlines ways for development in Glenwood to occur in a way that allows all to access Willamette River, stresses the importance of riparian ecosystems and has runoff minimizing techniques. 

“The city of Springfield has touted how its Glenwood Refinement Plan has won awards for being modern and progessive,” Holmes says. “Wouldn’t you want, as a developer, the entity that gets to have that opportunity to develop something special? Or is the city of Springfield going to say, ‘We have this great plan but couldn’t find a developer who could do this?’” 

The deadline for proposals is Oct 15. Holmes says Willamette Riverkeeper asked the city to include a 30-day protest period, which the city of Portland does, for example, so community members can provide comments related to any issues with the proposal. 

“The city hasn’t decided to do that,” she adds. “We’re trying to get as much information as we can into the public realm.” 

For more information on Springfield’s Glenwood RFQ and the full timeline visit Springfield-or.gov/City/Finance/itbrfp/Glenwood_rfq/.