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MacArthur Court defender takes on Eugene City Council

It’s not exactly David against Goliath. But Jonathan Bowers has managed one small victory already. Could he have more in store? If so, what will the Eugene City Council and the U of Oregon do about it?
It might have been a small victory that will matter little in the end. Jonathan Bowers, aa 33-year old jounalism student, thinks the University of Oregon should be not abandoning MacArthur Court, the second oldest NCAA facility for a new home. He knows the school has basically committed $250 million to a new gym but he has found a legal technicality that could derail — although it is likely only for a short while — the project.

Bowers has appealed the Eugene City Council’s decision to vacate and sell to the University of Oregon an alley and a street parcel needed for its basketball arena project. The goal of the appeal, filed earlier this month, is to preserve McArthur Court as Oregon’s arena.

Such an appeal typically takes four to six months and could be decided no earlier than the week of Dec. 10, said Debra Frye of the state Land Use Board of Appeals.

If that happens, UO could have a problem on its hands. School officials have said they need to start work by Nov. 30 in order to open the arena Nov. 1, 2010, as planned. They have stressed moving quickly on the project to minimize cost escalation. Any delay at all could be costly.

And that is just the tip of the issue.

"Typically, once we have the local-level land-use decision, we let the applicant move ahead at their own risk," Eugene associate city planner Steve Ochs said. If Bowers won his appeal, gues who is on the hook now?  That’s right — the school.

Furthermore, Oregon’s ongoing pursuit of the conditional-use permit it needs to begin building could take longer than the alley appeal. The permit application will have a hearing Oct. 7 at Eugene City Hall. Depending on appeals, a ruling on the permit could take months.

For his part, Bowers seems unimpressed that the UO arena project already has financing, contractors and approval from the State Board of Higher Education. Or that university officials and media reports have cited the arena’s leaky pipes, insect and mouse infestations, and uncomfortably crowded stands as perfectly good reasons to build a new arena.

Bowers’ contention is all of the above complaints were fixable — and the school simply mounted a massive PR campaign to get the public on their side in their attempt to get a new arena. But he knows that is probably a losing argument in the end so he is settling for a simple approach to the issue: maintaining that vacating the alley is not in the public interest. Hence, the university should save Mac Court.

Exactly where we go from here is anybody’s guess. The reality is the Eugene public seems to be in favor of the project and preserving an alley that leads to nowhere doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. So, it seemsa likely Bowers will end up suffering the same fate as did some determined tree sitters who took turns sitting in trees for 21 months to hold up the construction of a sports training center at the U of California. The shifts ended last week when the trees were cut down.