|Design review gets its say in how Gateways future looks
Editors note: Welcome to Perlmans Potpourri, news items from across the Gateway and Parkrose neighborhoods of mid-Multnomah County from veteran Beat Reporter Lee Perlman. A selection of highlights for July follows.
Coming up, the two-year saga of developer Bob Schatz in getting approval for his office-building project in the Gateway Urban Renewal Area is playing out again as another developer meets design review.
In a related story, the Bureau of Development Services held an open forum to discuss some of the issues over the design review process itself. Developers, city leaders, bureaucrats, architects and citizens all had a chance to chime in on the design review process and hopefully make it work better.
Next, developers in Gateway want amendments to the Gateway Master Street Plan to make it less ambitious and more flexible for their purposes.
Summer activities for the kiddies are the next news item in Perlmans Potpourri. National Night Out celebrations, concerts and movies in the park are listed.
Later in the Potpourri, the Airport Futures project, a joint venture of the Port of Portland and the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, is deciding whether and how the port and the city should plan for a proposed third runway.
Plus, the Portland Development Commission begins cleanup and demolition at the former J. J. Norths and Gateway Bingo Parlor sites this fall on Halsey Street in preparation for a future park in the heart of Gateway at Northeast 106th Avenue and Halsey Street.
And finally this month, a contingent of Mid-county neighborhood association leaders (the participatory neighborhood groups recognized by the city), led by Linda Robinson, joins the fray over Lents Park.
But first, the struggle over design review in Gateway ...
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
Design review slaps developers around
Once again, Bob Schatz, a Gateway-area developer, is climbing the walls as the Portland Design Commission asks for just a little more. He went through design review last month; this month its developer Eric Rystadts turn.
Schatzs travails with the commission a two-year battle that finally ended when he received design approval for a four-story office project, simultaneously excoriating the commission in a tirade, then declaring his First Amendment rights were being violated were mirrored by another developer last month. Rystadt is seeking approval for a six-story, 51-unit building at 244 and 304 N.E. 99th Ave. As part of the process, he is seeking code adjustments for parking and ground floor window requirements. At one point, he requested to have window bays projecting five feet into the public right of way, but backed off from this when advised it would involve a major fight.
As a provision of the Gateway Master Street Plan (see below), Rystadt is required to dedicate a swath of land eight feet wide on the north side of his property to allow for a continuation of Northeast Everett Street or a pedestrian right of way. Neither will be built until the other adjoining properties are developed. So until another building comes along, this will have an eight foot side yard? commission member Tim Eddy asked. The answer was yes.
In general, the commission members were encouraging toward Rystadt and his architect Ralph Tahran. Its always hard to be the first, Eddy said. You took the time to look a few blocks in each direction. However, he and others called for more information on the way different exterior materials would meet, how they would be fastened, the type of material to be used in railings and plans to screen the projects 50-space garage. Im concerned when we let plants be the architecture, Eddy said.
Gateway is a really challenging area when you have to imagine the context that will be around you, commission member Gwen Millius said. She then said the plans were thin on detail. Youre real close, but not quite complete.
While this was being said, Rystadt could be heard whispering to his design team, We cant afford to keep coming back. He then told the commission, I have problems with the whole Design Commission anyway. Its okay if it improves the building, but I dont see why we have to look at every last color or fastener.
Planner Chris Beanes later said that some of the information the commission was asking for had been submitted to the city previously, but it was not in the packets prepared for commission members and, since these were delivered at the last minute, he had no time to add the missing material.
Millius responded, The city came in and said, We want to make your neighborhood more dense. What the neighborhood got in return was design review. We have to balance these interests.
Commission Chair Jeff Stuhr said, We need to be able to defend our decisions. What we cant do is approve a design based on speculation. If you push for a decision today, it might not be a decision you want. However, if Rystadt and his team come back with the requested information in two weeks, Stuhr said, We could have you in and out of here in 15 minutes.
Rystadt decided to do as Stuhr suggested. Tahran said that with the exception of the particulars for providing for a future public right of way, I dont think any of the things youre asking for are unreasonable.
Design review reviewed
Bob Schatz and Eric Rystadt are not the only people who have had frustrations with the design review process. Last month, the Bureau of Development Services held an open forum to discuss some of the issues.
I get a pit in my stomach when I need to go through design review, one man said. When we finally get in front of the Design Commission, they are wonderful human beings, but man, it costs a bundle. He went on to say the process should be quick and objective.
Among the complaints by developers and architects were that the changes they are given by city planners are inconsistent. Some suggested that the Design Commission drives this, whose decisions the planners take as precedents and try to consider in making their own recommendations. We should have more consistency than the decisions of a rotating, volunteer commission, one man said.
Another said planners go too far in setting aesthetic standards. This isnt a box; its not a decorated box, and it has to make sense functionally.
Senior Planner Tim Heron commented that planners frequently urge developers to put building entrances at street corners because we want to generate activity at corners. Putting an entrance there isnt the only way to do it, but its one way.
This is a goal, not a hard-written rule, the developer responded.
Its between a goal and a standard, developer and former Portland Planning Commission Chair Rick Michaelson said. This is more than a goal; you have to do it this way or another way, but you have to do it.
One architect said, I dont think planners should be in the business of judging architectural design, period. They should discuss things like the amount of window massing and proximity to other structures. When they move out of this sphere and take on aesthetic considerations, they are stifling creativity. Id like to have an alternative design process for projects that dont meet the design code at all, he said.
Developer Daniel Deutsche commented, If youre designing in line with the Portland aesthetic and youre willing to compromise, design review is fairly easy. If you have an original idea and youre not so willing to compromise, its not so easy. On one of his projects, a planner gave him orders on how to arrange exterior lights. I didnt agree, but it wasnt worth fighting. Of the commission in general, he said, The process does stop really crappy projects. It also inhibits really cutting-edge proposals.
Michaelson said, The design standards need to be updated and reworked. They came out of the Community Plans (of the 1980s and 1990s). When you couldnt agree on something, youd put a design overlay on it. There are some things design review wont fix. Moreover, he added, they were conceived during the Albina Community Plan as a safe harbor for a type of building that wouldnt bother the community too much, and they have a bias toward that community.
In defense of such plans, Don MacGillivray of Buckman said that design standards are needed to make new projects blend into existing neighborhoods. Theres a place for iconic buildings. Good architecture lasts a long time. Neighborhoods generally dont have much involvement with development projects. If you can gain their support, they would be a powerful ally.
Heron agreed. Were disappointed with the lack of public feedback we get. When someone comes to the Design Commission, its almost like having an eighth commissioner there, they are so valued. When we get a letter of concern, it gets lots of attention. He seconded MacGillivrays suggestion that developers try to win over community leaders, as did Deutsche.
To this, Randy Leonard who oversees the Bureau of Development Services said, My preference is, youd get the same result whether the public supported the project or not. Repeatedly, he called for objective standards administered consistently.
Heron said, When we as planners take a stand, its because a project isnt respectful to the aesthetic of the place. Its not random; its a professional perspective. I know architects are feeling cramped. The engine isnt broken; it just needs a tune-up.
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