DeMuro’s passing leaves void

A large house on East Burnside St. was once occupied by one of Senator Wayne Morse’s strongest supporters. At every election a giant sign hanging from the balcony proclaimed, “Wayne Morse: Who Else?” The day after Morse’s death part of the sign was back – the last two words.

A similar sense of loss greeted the news of developer Art DeMuro’s death from a fast-acting cancer on September 8. He was 57.

As chair of the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission, DeMuro championed such causes as persuading City Council to fund a revision of Community Design Standards, and changes in the criteria and fee schedule for historic review of building changes.

Equally important, his Venerable Properties was perhaps the city’s leading restorer of vintage buildings for commercial use. DeMuro turned many decrepit structures others deemed unworthy of salvage into sparkling gems. Among his projects was the Ladd Carriage House, moved from its downtown location to make way for a new high rise, and then restored.

His latest project was the long-empty Washington High School building, for which he concluded a $2 million sales agreement with the Portland School District earlier this year.

Finalization depended on DeMuro’s finding a development plan, and funding for it. He had characterized the gap between the expense of the project, and what he could normally expect to realize from it, as “the widest I’ve ever seen.”

Not that he shied away from challenges. In his eulogy at a memorial at the Portland Art Museum attended by hundreds, his brother Gene said, “When he looked at a building, he didn’t see the deterioration; he saw the grandeur within it.”

He had a similar attitude toward people. “He wasn’t distracted by appearance or behavior; he looked beneath that to potential.”

A question for many was the fate of the Washington High School project. It is a venture that no one would undertake for profit alone. Can it survive the loss of DeMuro’s zeal and expertise?

His partner at Venerable, Craig Kelley, assured The Southeast Examiner, “We will continue moving forward with this project, and expect to complete the purchase by the end of the year. What the eventual use of the building will be, we can’t say.”

 

Parking-less development produces neighborhood, city reactions

Multi-family development projects with no off-street parking continued to sprout throughout the city, producing reactions by both City officials and neighborhood groups.

David Mullens of Creston Homes, the creator of some of these projects, last month visited Kerns Neighborhood Association to discuss one of them: a 50 unit, four story building in a commercial zone on E. Burnside St. at 30th Ave. with no parking and no ground-floor retail.

A group of neighborhood volunteers compiled a series of questions and proposals regarding the project. At the meeting, before a crowd of about 30 people, Mullens calmly responded to each.

Mullens said that the building would have at least 60 bike parking spaces, including one in each room. He said he would seek a working relationship with a car sharing service such as Car2Go or Zipcar.

Trees on the perimeter of the property would be taken down, but more would be planted when construction was completed.

He said he had been unable to find a nearby parking lot with spaces that could be leased by tenants, but when some residents suggest the Catholic Archdiocese lot at SE 28th Ave., he said he would look into it.

A 30-minute space in front to ensure parking turnover would be “not a problem.” He also said Creston Homes routinely runs background checks on its tenants. Smoking will not be allowed. He promised that garbage pickup would not occur in the early hours, and probably wouldn’t happen more than twice a week.

Asked about input into building color he said, “You guys are the ones who have to live with it every day. We’ll show you the palette and you can have fun – just no pink or purple.” Finally, he agreed to negotiate a Good Neighbor Agreement with Kerns.

However, Mullens said on-site parking was out of the question. “Our building design takes up the entire site, and it doesn’t allow for parking,” he said.

Likewise, he rejected ground floor retail. Asked if there might be live-work space he said, “Anyone can work out of their home. I guess anything can be remodeled in the future.” He rejected providing bus passes to tenants. Asked if he would insist that perspective tenants not own cars, he questioned how such a provision could be enforced.

“They’ll lie and park three blocks away in front of my house,” one resident said.

Construction will probably begin in about a month, go on for 12 months, and for 11 months of this, the Burnside sidewalk will be inaccessible, Mullens said. Construction hours will be 7 am. to 6 pm. as the law allows.

Kerns board member Emily Simon said, “This is a good start on a conversation. (Mullens) could have just said he wouldn’t consider a Good Neighbor Agreement.”

In a less friendly vein another resident said, “The steps you’ve taken so far are minimal, but parking is a big issue. You’re confident your tenants will all use bikes or transit, but we’re the ones taking the risk.”

One woman told Mullens, “Thank you for coming. There were a lot of projections here that were not friendly. But 7 am. is too early. Pardon my language, but I feel bitch-slapped by the size of this building, which is out of scale with our neighborhood.”

More similar projects continue to be proposed. Kerns board member Jay Harris said a new project on NE 20th Ave. and Couch St. would have at least 60 units.

Buckman’s David Askin stated in an e-mail that a similar sized building is planned for SE Hawthorne Blvd. and 26th Ave.; and would remove two large houses more than 100 years old.

In reaction, affected groups have formed the ad hoc citywide alliance Friends for Responsible Growth. Last month, representatives of five affected neighborhoods – Kerns, Richmond, Sellwood-Moreland, Overlook and Beaumont – Wilshire, made a coordinated presentation to City Council on the issue. Council members indicated they were impressed by the group and shared their concerns.

Indeed, there is a study underway by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, the Parking and Travel Behavior Study.

As planner Matt Wickstrom explained at Kerns, the Bureau will look at eight large apartment buildings constructed recently without parking. They will survey tenants to determine their rate of car ownership and preferred mode of transportation.

They will also measure the degree of parking congestion within two blocks of the building, and the quality and quantity of bus service now as compared to 2007.

 

Neighborhood grants available

Southeast Uplift’s Neighborhood Program has $21,603 available for the latest round of Neighborhood Small Grants. Money from the City General Fund, is dispersed through the Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement to SEUL and the other six district coalitions.

They are awarded to community organizations for special projects that “increase the capacity” of such groups, encourage partnerships between them, and encourage participation by “under-represented communities.”

Applications are due November 5. For more information or for applications call 503.232.0010 or contact blythe@southeastuplift.org.

 

Sunday Parkways flows easily

Southeast Sunday Parkways on August 26 drew 26,000 people and, according to Linda Ginenthal of the Portland Office of Transportation, “It was logistically the smoothest running event we’ve ever had.”

For the second time, participants had the option of taking in Mount Tabor Park and Ginenthal says about a third of the participants did so. There they could take in a Shakespearean play, while Laurelhurst Park offered both musical entertainment and an opportunity for physical activity by Circus Cascadia and the Portland Bureau of Parks.

A Community Marketplace in Ivon Park offered a bounce house for kids and information by businesses and non-profit groups for adults. Meanwhile, there were even more crowds the same day at the Hawthorne Street Fair, with some professional pirates to boot.

 

Mt. Tabor Weed Warriors win Spirit award

Friends of Mount Tabor Park’s Weed Warriors are among this year’s Spirit of Portland Award winners. The annual awards recognize individuals or groups that contribute to the city’s livability.

Winners are chosen by a citizen jury under the direction of the Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement from among nominations submitted by the public. There were 50 such nominations this year.

The Weed Warriors last year alone contributed more than 2400 volunteer hours to keeping the park’s invasive plants under control. They and other winners will receive their awards from the Portland City Council at a ceremony beginning at 7 pm. October 29 at the Double Tree Hotel, 1000 NE. Multnomah St.

 

Kitchen Dances closes

Kitchen Dances, the new vegan restaurant in the old Eat Art Theatre space in the Milepost 5 arts community at 850 NE. 81st Ave. has closed. It seems that the sudden departure of their chef, followed by one of their backers, were blows from which they were unable to recover.

 

ONI working on funding formula

From the beginning, each of the city’s seven neighborhood coalitions has complained chronically that they don’t receive enough funds to carry out tasks they are called on to do. An ongoing debate has revolved around what is the fairest way to divide up whatever resources are available.

According to Paul Leistner of the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, a consensus is forming around a formula that considers four criteria: the total population of the area the coalition serves; the number of active neighborhood associations within that area; the percentage of renters as homeowners within the population; and the percentage of ethnic minorities.

 

Meeting shows PDC-community divide

A citywide Urban Renewal summit, called by the Portland Development Commission and including members of its seven Urban Renewal Advisory Committees, served mostly to show the level of dissatisfaction such groups feel.

PDC director Patrick Quinton said the agency has changed direction in the last few years. It now has an adopted economic development strategy, and an emphasis on four targeted industry clusters – traded sector, athletic shoes and apparel, clean tech and manufacturing.

There is less emphasis on geography-based strategies and, to the extent that there is, there is an emphasis on serving areas that “have not historically benefited,” such as East Portland, Quinton said.

Another staffer, Jennifer Nolfi, said the agency has become much more strategic in how it spends its funds. “We wanted to do a few clusters, and do them well,” she said. If they are asked to help fund new buildings, she said, “They must come with pre-signed tenants in them, and hopefully in targeted industries.”

Several people advisory committee members, from different parts of the city, complained they are not being taken seriously. One, Peter Stark of the Central East Side, said, “I see a shift in our ability to provide advice. I’ve seen a definite change. We’re informed of your decisions (about the use of urban renewal funds and activities) rather than asked, and even when we say, ‘We don’t want this,’ it happens. I understand you have to change to do what you’re doing, but what is our purpose?”

PDC’s Keith Witcosky replied, “For the first time we have a strategy that is very sound, and a direction to achieve our goals. Before, things were much more wide open, and we didn’t exert much leadership.”

In addition, he said, “We have a lot of other advisory committees, a lot of ways to get input from citizens. You have a different role.”

Stark said, “It’s not a question of, ‘How dare you take this away from us?’ But I’m at the point where I say, ‘There’s no point in our being here, other than to be in the room and thereby help you fulfill your obligation to have public input.”

Witcosky replied, “Way back when, we had plans put together by citizen committees.” Now there are other priorities, “and these things collide, with winners and losers.”