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City mulls Central Gateway strategy


Sooner or later the area once known as Prunedale and now officially Central Gateway will be redeveloped into something more valuable. The Portland Development Commission is looking at ways to make it happen sooner.

The area in question is bounded by the I-205 Freeway, Northeast and Southeast 102nd Avenue, and Northeast Glisan and Southeast Stark streets. Currently it is occupied by single-family homes, many in poor condition, one-story commercial or industrial buildings, and a large junkyard. However, since the passage of the Outer Southeast Community Plan, it has been zoned CX, EX and RX, all high-intensity zones allowing commercial or residential buildings up to 120 feet high.

“It’s to the scale of what you’d expect to see in the Pearl or South Waterfront,” consultant Sumner Sharpe said at an open house last month.

This sort of development, PDC believes, would enhance Gateway as a whole and create increased land values that would translate into more tax increment funds to pay for improvements to the district.

“This is an under-utilized area that should be developed,” property owner Frieda Christopher told the open house. “This is our best chance in all of Gateway to get quality jobs and make this more valuable than it is now.”

Why isn’t it happening? “The condition of the area is a detriment to development,” Sharpe said. The area has a poor appearance and a poor image; Debbie Williams complained about the junkyard across the street from her property and about unruly elements that she says come to the area via the MAX light rail. Except for the main arterials, streets are in poor condition, unimproved or non-existent.

Another problem is that 125 different people, many of them owning only a single lot, own the land. Sharpe and others said it is hard to take advantage of the zoning and build quality developments on such small parcels.

Still another drawback, architect and consultant Don Stastny said, was a lack of open space. He provided two conceptual drawings of how the area could be developed. Both contained a new park in the northern part of the area and suggested how additional open space could be created through public plazas. Both had new east-west streets about where a Northeast Couch and Davis would be, and a not-yet-existent Northeast 101st Avenue. One of the concepts includes “curvilinear” streets to give the area a unique character. (One property owner pointed out that one of the proposed streets, as depicted, curved through his property!)

How to bring all this about? PDC is constrained by the fact that at this point it doesn’t have much tax increment financing to pay for some of the proposed improvements. One alternative is a “super L.I.D.” An L.I.D., or Local Improvement District, is a special tax assessment on property owners in a given area to pay for a specific public improvement, such as a new road. Usually, in this case, the property owners adjacent to the road are assessed according to either the size of their property or how much of it touches the proposed road. The proposed Super L.I.D. would tax a larger area, perhaps the entire district, reducing the burden on those involved. Another possible source of funding is Metro’s new bond measure to acquire additional park land.

In other areas PDC “assembles” developable sites by buying the land and seeking a qualified developer to sell it back under some stipulations. Here PDC might act as facilitator to bring property owners together. One possible arrangement, a limited liability company, would allow owners to pool their resources and create a large, buildable parcel, yet allow them to retain interest in the land and not “sell out and be done,” as consultant Justin Douglas says.

City bureaus could help in other ways. PDC, through its Development Opportunity Services Program, could provide owners with a free assessment of what they could do with their land and what it would take to get there. The Bureau of Environmental Services could do a survey of the area to determine what sort of cleanup a developer would be faced with.

The DOS Program is for property owners in targeted neighborhoods in the city of Portland. The DOS Program’s purpose is to assist property owners with seed money and in helping evaluate a development project’s feasibility by providing development expertise and technical assistance.

About 75 people attended the open house. According to Douglas, attendees were particularly interested in the DOS Program and street development; several felt this last should be used to improve existing substandard streets as well as to create new ones. A final report and recommendations will go to the PDC for adoption in April.

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