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Fischer Gray named to Planning and Sustainability Commission

Publisher's note:
Welcome to Perlman's Potpourri for October, a roundup of news items from the Gateway and Parkrose neighborhoods of mid-Multnomah County from veteran Beat Reporter Lee Perlman.

Coming up: Expected to advocate for and represent east Portland interests, Dr. Karen Fischer Gray, Parkrose School District Superintendent, was named to the re-named Portland Panning and Sustainability Commission last month.

A team of consultants - strategic action plan consultants, not the usual study consultants - was hired by the Portland Development Commission to create an action plan for the Gateway Regional Center urban renewal area. Read their conclusions below.

The Portland City Council and Port of Portland Commission will hold a joint hearing on the PDX Master Plan in November.

The Portland Development Commission loaned just over one million dollars, part of a $10 million public financing package to battery maker ReVolt Technology to build a company headquarters on Glenn Widing Drive near Marine Drive.

Also in Perlman's Potpourri this month, the Panning Commission voted 5-0 to approve the new draft master plan for Portland International Airport, maintaining the 50-foot buffer zone between the Columbia Sough and development.

Finally, Spirit of Portland Award winners were announced. Among others, they include outgoing David Douglas superintendent Barbara Rommel and - shameless self-promoters take note - nominating themselves, the Parkrose Business Association won Business Association of the Year award.

First, to the news about the appointment of Parkrose's Dr. Karen Fischer Gray to the prestigious and influential Planning and Sustainability Commission …


Fischer Gray added to PP and S Commission
Dr. Karen Fischer Gray, Parkrose Schools Superintendent, was named to the Portland Planning and Sustainability Committee last month.
Dr. Karen Fischer Gray, superintendent of the Parkrose School District, was named to the new Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission, Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Director Susan Anderson announced last month. The new body, which will combine and replace the old Planning and Sustainability commissions, will have its first meeting October 12.

All eight sitting members of the old Planning Commission, which held its last meeting on August 24, will serve on the new body. In addition to Fischer Gray, the new members will be Mike Houck, one of the city's best-known environmental advocates and a member of the previous Sustainability Commission, and Gary Oxman of Multnomah County.

“We're very excited to have Karen on the Commission,” Anderson told the Memo. “She brings two important perspectives to the Commission: that of an educator, and that of a representative of this part of town. We haven't tried for geographic representation on this body until now.”

Fischer Gray is not the first person from east Portland to serve on the Planning Commission - developer Dick Cooley, who has fiduciary interests in the area and was the first chair of the Opportunity Gateway Program Advisory Committee - chaired the Commission once. However, the area has been relatively under-represented.

“I feel honored to be selected by the mayor for this commission,” says Fischer Gray. “I hope to use that time and that venue to support and advocate for the needs of east Portland.” She also serves on the East Portland Action Plan Advisory Committee.

Gateway seeks new development strategy
A team of consultants hired for $50,000 by the Portland Development Commission is working on a Gateway Business Development Strategy, the latest planning effort for the area.

Katherine Stedwell of Applied Development Economics told the Gateway Regional Center Urban Renewal Area Advisory Committee last month that this would not be another in a series of economic plans for the area. “This is a fresh look at the economics in Gateway,” she said. “This is not a study; it's a strategic action plan.”

She and her team have begun with data collection. They are studying an area larger than the district, bound by Northeast Halsey and Southeast Market streets, the I-205 Freeway and 113th Avenue. Based on 2008 data this area contains 7200 people divided into 2700 households averaging 3.2 people per household, an unusually large size. The population as a whole is below average in educational achievement, but not necessarily in income, says Stedwell.

There are 9500 jobs in Gateway. Of these 4800 are in education and health services. Another 1700 are in trades, including retail. 1200 are in the hospitality industry.

The consultants assessed the area in terms of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT). Strengths, Stedwell said, include its accessibility, with its multiple freeways and MAX light rail lines and proximity to Portland International Airport. Its concentration of medical facilities makes it a logical provider not only for the immediate area but for inland areas to the east. It has affordable housing.

Weaknesses include traffic congestion, limited office space, fragmented property ownership that makes it hard to acquire large developable parcels, under-utilized land, the “perception of crime,” and “lack of definition,” she said.

Opportunities include growing demand for health care, a turnover in population resulting in younger families who typically spend more money, new parks, and “ongoing initiatives.” A shortage of industrial land citywide “could be an opportunity if you want to nurture incubator manufacturing,” says Stedwell.

Threats could be a slower-than-expected national and state economic recovery, and a glut of Class A office space elsewhere that competes with what Gateway has to offer. For example, the vacancy rate in Lake Oswego's Kruse Way is 40 percent, says Stedwell. In addition, “Workers now want to live in or close to downtown,” which in turn drives where businesses locate and puts Gateway at a disadvantage.

“Your best approach is to try for a diversity of employment and business,” she said. She also suggested seeking some of the federal funds now available and “not count on urban renewal so much.”

The consultants are holding a Stakeholder Summit from 8 to 10 a.m. October 28 at the Oregon Clinic, 1111 N.E. 99th Ave. Some stakeholders questioned the wisdom of holding such a meeting on a weekday morning. The advantage is “People can come to the meeting fresh and not have it take up their whole day,” says Stedwell.

PDC's Estee Segal added that PDC intended the Stakeholders to be a relatively small, targeted group. “This isn't a come-one-come-all session,” she said.

Commission approves Airport Plan
Last month, in its last session the Portland Planning Commission approved a new draft master plan for the Portland International Airport, including controversial environmental restrictions on the future use of adjacent private property. The Plan will now be forwarded to the Portland City Council for adoption, at a date yet to be determined.

The Commission's third and final hearing on the Plan, like the two previous ones, was taken up almost entirely with the proposed treatment of adjacent properties. The Plan originally proposed to place an environmental “P” zone buffer over land within 50 feet of the Columbia Slough and other water bodies. This would not disallow structures or activities now in place within this buffer, but would prohibit new ones.

In the face of strong opposition from local property owners, the industrial Columbia Corridor Association and the Portland Business Alliance, Bureau of Planning and Sustainability proposed a compromise. Just the first 25 feet of the buffer would be a “P” zone; the next 25 would be a less restrictive “C” zone with strong protection for existing trees and other significant vegetation.

Several people spoke either in favor of the compromise or requested a delay for further study. Ron and Sally Beck, who for 18 years have raised horses in the East Columbia neighborhood, said that much of their property has mistakenly been declared a wetland based on flooding caused by the paving of the old Merritt Farm property, and that they cannot straighten out the issue during the dry season. Others said it would render small industrial properties unviable. At one point, a suggestion was made that the compromise be applied to small lots.

Others argued for the regulations as originally proposed, including Linda Robinson of Hazelwood and Alice Blatt of Wilkes. The 50-foot buffer for the Slough, “outer Northeast Portland's most important natural resource,” they said, was established by a ruling of the Land Use Board of Appeals in 1991, and maintained through appeals to the state Supreme Court. At the time, they said, 50 feet was deemed the minimum width that such a buffer should be; the ideal would be about 300 feet.

Commission member Irma Valdez thanked Blatt for her testimony. The compromise would mean, “rolling backward” on environmental protection, “and we don't want to do that. We need to protect an area we've been told is unique, and is being compromised.” Regarding the Becks she said, “There's informed risk when you buy property.”

The final vote was five to zero in favor of the Planning Commission's original staff report retaining the 50-foot buffer zone.

Council airport hearing set
According to planner Jay Sugnet of the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, the Portland City Council and Port of Portland Commission will hold a joint hearing on the PDX Master Plan at 6 p.m. November 3. At press time it was not known whether the hearing would be held in Council Chambers at City Hall, or at the Port's headquarters building at the airport. For more information call 503-823-5869 or visit

The Plan, the product of the Airport Futures process, categorizes future airport projects, lists transportation improvements that must be undertaken as new projects get underway or airport activity reaches certain thresholds, and specifies environmental mitigation, most of it near the Columbia Slough or on Government Island, that must be done in conjunction with future development on Port property. In what has turned out to be the Plan's most controversial feature, it establishes new environmental regulations for private property adjacent to PDX.

PDC recruits Battery company
The Portland Development Commission voted last month to appropriate $1.5 million for a loan to help ReVolt Technology, LLC set up their headquarters on a 20,000 square foot rented site at 11855 N.E. Glenn Widing Drive, close to Marine Drive. The appropriation is part of $10 million in public financing the company is receiving for venture, including $5 million from the Governor's Resources Fund. PDC staffer Patrick Quinton told the PDC Commission that the company will eventually have 120 people working on the site.

The company makes state-of-the-art batteries for everything from hearing aids to electric vehicles, Quinton said. PDC has been courting them since July 2009, he said.

Commission Chair Scott Andrews elaborated on this. “It took a lot of coordination,” he said. “It looked like we had 'em, then it looked like we were losing 'em. We couldn't offer the kind of incentives that other cities could.” What ultimately turned the tide, he said, was Portland's commitment to being a “green” city. “They're a company that walks the walk,” he said.

Indeed, as Charles Wilhoite, commission member, said, ReVolt Technology can serve as an “anchor” for such businesses. “This is what PDC was intended to do,” he said.

East Portlanders win Spirit awards
Outgoing David Douglas Superintendent Barbara Rommel wins Spirit of Portland Award.
Several individuals and organizations with ties to Mid-county were named Spirit of Portland Award winners last month. Given out since 1985, the Spirit of Portland Award honors individuals and organizations in several categories who have contributed to the city's livability. Winners are selected by a citizen jury under the direction of the Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement from nominees submitted by the public. ONI received 85 nominations this year. Since last year, members of the Portland City Council have also had a chance to confer awards. Commissioner Dan Saltzman selected Barbara Rommel, outgoing superintendent of the David Douglas School District, in this way.

Among this year's winners are:
Tom Barnes. A volunteer with the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association, he was selected for his work on behalf of the East Portland Action Plan, East Portland Expo, East Portland Graffiti Cleanup, Southeast Foster Road Adopt a Drain Program, the SRS Bike Patrol, and his neighborhood's National Night Out event. “I'm humbled and honored by this,” he told the Memo upon receiving news of the award. He gives credit to his fellow volunteers, saying that without them “nothing I tried to do would have gone anywhere. It was a team effort.”

Lee Po Cha of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) recognized for both his work with that agency and with the Coalition of Communities of Color.

Brian Wong. Beginning in 2008 Wong, a Montavilla neighborhood resident, led efforts to deal with prostitution on Northeast and Southeast 82nd Avenue, including several pickets and parades to protest the removal of the Prostitution Free Zone. He later co-chaired the Prostitution Coordination Team, which oversaw City and County efforts to deal with the issue. Wong also worked with the Montavilla Neighborhood Association, serving for a time as chair, and helped them organize a Kids Summer Festival.
Kristan Knapp. This Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation employee coordinated the agencies free summer park concerts, including the Ventura Park series.

The Parkrose Business Association. Nominated by PBA president Wayne Stoll, they were selected for their work on improving and maintaining the intersection of Northeast Sandy Boulevard and 99th Avenue, their scholarship programs for area youth, their hanging baskets on Sandy, and their Smart Solar Home Tour, with proceeds going to charity.

These and other awards will be given out by council members in a ceremony beginning at 7 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Double Tree Hotel, 1000 N.E. Multnomah St. The hotel is across the street from the Holladay Park MAX light rail station served by the blue, green and red lines.
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