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Bend experiencing growing strains

Population, building boom brings pressures on way of life

BEND — Aimee Bancroft owns a real estate business in Bend, but she still can't believe the growth she sees every day in her hometown of 15 years.

One look at Bancroft's real estate transaction records prove her point. Bancroft Deed Service alone records about 150 sales a week, and some new residents pay up to $600,000 for a Bend address — in cash.

Many new arrivals come from from Portland, Eugene and Corvallis. Still more come from California.

There are a lot of wealthy people moving into the area, said 38-year-old Bancroft. I type this stuff in all day and then I drive around and see it and it blows my mind. It just floors me, it simmers in me.

Bancroft and other longtime Bend residents say they see pluses and minuses to the influx of new residents. Traffic is becoming a problem in the once-quiet town, and unruly drivers worry residents with children.

Veterans worry about increasing property taxes to pay for additional infrastructure projects and hope the newly-elected city council will put more emphasis on slow growth and planning.

Yet the Bancrofts admit their city's growth has brought positive changes as well. There are more shops and restaurants, better deals at larger department stores and more things to do in town. And the Bancrofts? business — real estate — has taken off.

The positive parts of Bend are really positive, said Bob Bancroft, Aimee's 39-year-old husband. We try to avoid the negative.

Bend's population has nearly doubled since 1988, but it wasn't always such a trendy place. In the early 1980s, the Deschutes County unemployment rate hovered in the double digits and for years Bend's population grew at an average of only 7.6 percent.

In the mid-1980s, the Bend Chamber of Commerce bought an out-of-state billboard to try to attract people to the area.

Then, somehow, things started booming.

In 1995, the school district opened a special magnet school, in part because of growth. An elementary school that opened this fall near the construction site for a 1,600-home subdivision is already overcrowded. Another subdivision is proposed near an elementary school that is already at capacity.

The district predicts it will need seven new schools by 2015, but school officials worry construction can't keep up with enrollment, in part because of wary taxpayers. All new schools would be funded by taxpayers through bonds that must be voter-approved.

Longtime residents see the threat to their taxes, and a new fighting spirit is catching on around town. One hot spot has been 130-foot-tall golf nets at a driving range that block the mountain view.

A newly-elected Bend City Council might be key to holding back developers and satisfying the complaints of people such as the Bancrofts by making an effort to slow or contain growth.

I have hope for the city now, said Aimee Bancroft, who voted for the block of slow-growth candidates. It's a start.

The Bancrofts hope new council members will be more proactive instead of reactive when it comes to controlling growth, though Bend city planners said they are keeping up with demand and managing growth as best they can.

It's hard for us to keep up with things, and it's hard for us to get ahead, said Mike Byers, the city's principal planner. Nobody can really keep up with it. It's just too much too fast.