|Gateway Program Advisory Committee votes for lower building heights on 102nd Avenue
Zoning revisions headed for Planning Commission, Council
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
Gateway resident Joe Rinella and his neighbors are whittling away at the allowed height for development behind their homes on Northeast 103rd Avenue, and the political support for it. Last month the Opportunity Gateway Program Advisory Committee or PAC voted (all but one) against a motion to allow buildings up to 100 feet tall on commercially zoned properties along Northeast 102nd Avenue, adjacent to the residential area to the east. A second vote, to lower the allowed height to 75 feet, ended in a seven-seven tie. The current maximum height on the property is 120 feet. Rinella and his neighbors want it limited to no more than four stories.
It is the most hotly debated feature of the Gateway Plan Rezoning Study, the Portland Bureau of Plannings re-examination of land use regulations in the Gateway Urban Renewal District and a corridor extending eastward to 162nd Street. As the Memo goes to press, the project was scheduled to be reviewed by the Portland Planning Commission, beginning with a hearing September 30, and from there forwarded to City Council for action.
When development abuts homes
A sensitive feature of Gateways zoning has been its so-called transition areas. There has been a careful attempt to leave MOST of the single-family residential areas surrounding the district as they are. However, there have also been policies to encourage high intensity development in the district itself. In some places these two types of properties are directly adjacent to each other.
The Rezoning Study proposes to impose a buffer zone in such instances, limiting the height of new development on the first 50 feet of any property adjoining land zoned R5. The catch for the 103rd Avenue residents are that their property IS a buffer, zoned CM for mixed use. For them the new buffer regulations do not apply.
Rinella, a 103rd Avenue resident has been working for the past year to get this changed. City planners say that reducing the permitted height along Northeast 102nd Avenue from the current 120 feet to 100 is as far as they can go in accommodating the residents to the east. To do so, they say, would interfere with redevelopment of 102nd. As chief planner Joe Zehnder told a gathering of 50 concerned neighbors assembled by Rinella last month, the street will be the central spine of the district, and may be redesigned as a boulevard and widened. This will take land away from adjacent properties. Theyre already narrower than a standard Portland lot, and this makes them even smaller, Zehnder said. In such a situation, Bigger buildings work better than smaller ones. Were not saying anyones house has to go, but we need to plan for the future.
Zehnder reminded those present that the regulations that distressed them were already in place and had been since the passage of the Outer Southeast Plan of 1996; We didnt pull this out of a hat. As to the future he said, I think the decision about density has already been made.
Developer Gordon Jones, who owns five parcels on Northeast 102nd Avenue, made a similar argument. He urged those present, Try to create a good plan that will raise the value of your property through design regulations. He said he planned to build owner-occupied condominiums, not low-income housing as the neighbors fear.
He added, I know theres a lot of residual anger here, but I have rights like everyone else. This was zoned a certain way when I bought it. (The permitted height) wont go down to two stories; its just not going to happen. If it did, youd all have to open your wallets - a reference to a potential law suit for a zoning taking.
However, those who came - not just residents of 103rd, but residential property to the east - remained adamantly opposed. We all bought our homes because we thought this would be a nice residential area, one said. You cant have that feeling with a 100 foot wall behind you. Another said the property will end up in developers hands and turned into low-rent slums. You wont be able to sell to anyone who can do anything with it.
PAC sides with residents
The debate continued at the Opportunity Gateway PAC meeting, where one resident said, This is a very stable area with a good tax base; many people would envy our neighborhood. (High-density development) would have a dramatic effect. We take this very personally. Theres no doubt in our mind; this will negatively impact us. Were being sacrificed for commercial interests.
Some of those present came in response to a notice the Planning Bureau had sent out saying that the proposals may impact the value of your property. Zehnder said state law required the notices even if we dont believe it will affect property values. He also pointed out that although the CM zone allows up to 50 percent of new development to be commercial, it also allows fully residential projects.
Kevin Pfeiffer, a resident and real estate salesman, countered, What you will run into, I guarantee you, is that you wont be able to get residential development in a commercial zone.
Another resident of 103rd said, This is zoned commercial for a reason: (land on 102nd) is too narrow to build much of anything unless you build on the west side of 103rd. This will be a severe impact on me. Our homes will deteriorate, our property values will go down, and it will have a domino effect. I can see the need for development, but I believe a wise developer includes the needs of the neighborhood around him. Three stories would be okay, I could live with four, but 100 feet is too much.
The PAC voted against a 100-foot height, in part out of consideration for the neighbors, in part because they felt it was unnecessary to fulfill the Gateway vision. East Portland Neighborhood Office director Richard Bixby said the issue could be revisited in 10 years when the district is more ready to accept this kind of change. In the meantime, he said, I think we can forgo development in this area.
Developer Ted Gilbert agreed, saying, It will be years, maybe decades, before the market dictates height anywhere near this. When youre visioning, you should forget zoning and think of what you want to see. We can achieve our best vision with less than 100 foot heights. Moreover, he said, 100 feet is too severe a transition to a very stable and very dense neighborhood.
Meanwhile, the study is undergoing fine-tuning in other, less contentious areas. According to planner Ellen Ryker, there will be a few changes in zoning over those proposed in an earlier draft a month ago, including an open space designation for part of the Floyd Light Middle School grounds, now zoned for residential development.
The earlier draft called for a master planning process for development of sites of 80,000 square feet or larger. This is still an option, but developers can choose instead to meet a set of objective standards, which include providing housing, open space, and access through the site. The PAC wanted developers to have flexibility, but it didnt want to make a planning process a requirement, Ryker said. Another change is that developers will not get a bonus in density or height for building on small sites.
One hotly debated issue is whether there should be a limit of three off-street parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of development in the district. Phil Selinger of Tri-Met and Laurel Wentworth of the Portland Office of Transportation called for keeping this limitation to encourage use of light rail. Gilbert opposed it, and said developer and PAC chair Dick Cooley did too. If this were a developed urban area today, three spaces per thousand would be more than adequate, Gilbert said. But as we look to redevelop, you cant start by throwing away the advantages of the great road access we have.
Resident Aleta Woodruff countered that the existing large lots in the area even at Christmas time are never completely full. In a compromise Frieda Christopher suggested exceeding the limit for underground or structured parking. Lets encourage what we want, she said.
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