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Schatz gains design approval after stormy third hearing


Developer Bob Schatz last month gained design approval for his 123 S.E. 97th Ave. project — just barely — on the third try.

Schatz has been seeking design approval for a four-story structure occupied by small, basic offices. He ran afoul of Gateway’s Urban Renewal Area design review process over several issues, including a large, black, metallic O he wanted to put on one side of the structure in order to attract attention from the I-205 freeway. Planner Chris Beanes didn’t tell Schatz he couldn’t have his O, but he did say that it exacerbated another problem: The main entrance did not have sufficient prominence. When Beanes denied approval for the design, Schatz appealed to the Portland Design Commission, only to have them side with the planner. After extensive work and some private discussion with two commission members, Schatz came back with a new design. Commission members said they liked this much better, but still sent Schatz back for more work — because they didn’t like the color.

Schatz’s presentation at last month’s commission meeting wasn’t so much a design presentation as a catalog of grievances. He has been trying to get through the design review process since September 2007. Early on in the process, he said, Senior Planner Jeff Joslin told him his design could be approved with minor changes. “Promises weren’t kept. There’s no consistency within this department from one representative to the next. It seems like you’re yanking my chain for some unknown reason.”

Schatz complained he was forbidden to use vinyl windows even though they were used in other recent nearby projects. He was told not to pursue some design elements that Commission member Tim Eddy had used on his own projects. “I’m not sure the planning department is legal,” Schatz said. “I’m not sure how regulating paint color and siding helps the public safety and welfare.” At one point he quoted the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing free speech and expression, verbatim. Newly elected Commission Chair Jeff Stuhr prodded Schatz to address the issues of his project.

Schatz said he had made numerous changes in the design at the city’s behest. “I was forced to be symmetrical on all sides. It’s not logical, but I was willing to do it to get through the process.” He brought a sample of a heavier gauge of metal siding that he said he would use at the base, in response to Commission member Andrew Jansky’s concern that a lighter metal would be too easily damaged. Somewhat defiantly, Schatz said he would use two different types of siding.

Eddy, who had been Schatz’s chief critic at the last session, said he didn’t object to the use of two types of siding, but to two different colors. A monochromatic scheme “would allow the forms to be expressed by light and shadow,” Eddy said. “I appreciate the process you’ve gone through, Bob. It’s been long and arduous. I hope it’s not like this all the time. This is a pioneering project, and you’re taking a great deal of risk in building it here. It’s a very visible project.” He maintained his stance on the color issue but added, “Beyond that, I’m generally happy with the changes.”

Commission member Ben Kaiser, a developer, was also conciliatory. “This is a frustrating process,” he said. “Most of us have been on the other side of the table. But we have been applauded around the world for the results of the process. It results in a great city. We might have saved you quite a bit of money and made this more marketable. Overall it’s improved quite a bit.” He did not agree with Eddy that a color change was necessary.

Commission member David Wark was less sympathetic. “This was about the most difficult process I have seen,” he said, “and it’s partly due to one party’s failure to appreciate a process that makes Portland the great place it is. Other cities don’t demand as much as we do, and it shows. To say you like living in Portland but don’t like living up to its standards is contradictory to me. Gateway deserves this level of quality. I’ve never seen staff trying to be difficult or yanking someone’s chain.” He also questioned Schatz’s plans for an open courtyard in the center of the structure.

Jansky said he was satisfied about the siding issue, but he remained critical. Looking at the case file, he said, “Your packet is pretty thin compared to some others. This is a great concept, but poor execution can make a project go south pretty fast.” He criticized the black and white renderings Schatz presented, saying they didn’t show much about the building. “I understand you’ve been through a lot, but there haven’t been a lot of changes since the last time you were here.”

Commission member Gwen Millius said, “We’ve tried to raise the bar in Gateway. We agreed to (allow) higher density in exchange for having us look at projects. I sort of side with Commissioner Eddy that one color would bring you a better building.”

Looking somewhat frustrated, Schatz said, “The earliest concerns were about the relationship to the street. I think the new design meets those concerns. We got the best we could get. I think the guidelines are met.” When Jansky and Wark asked for additional detail changes, Schatz told the latter, “What we have, David, is the design as proposed. You will have to make your judgment on that.” On the vote, Eddy abstained while the rest of the commission approved the project.

Schatz later told the Memo that with additional work needed on the project and time needed to get it through the city’s permitting process, he was probably about a year away from breaking ground.

South elevation view of the design for the new building at 123 S.E. 97th Ave. Developer Bob Schatz recently submitted this re-design — for the third time — to the Portland Design Commission for approval. Schatz expects to break ground for his office building in about a year.
Courtesy Bob Schatz
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