Southeast Precinct rededicated

 

The old Southeast Precinct was reopened and rededicated last month, this time in partnership with other public safety programs.

Under then-police chief Rosie Sizer the bureau decommissioned the precinct at 4747 E. Burnside St., and North Precinct in St. Johns, in an effort to cut costs while retaining patrol officers. The Traffic Division continued to operate out of the building, and patrol responsibilities for SE Portland were divided between the Central and East precincts.

Since then, the City purchased the Penumbra Kelley Building from Multnomah County. Its occupants in addition to the precinct include the Neighborhood Crime Prevention Program and the Portland Water Bureau’s security force.

The precinct so far has only a day shift, but Chief Mike Reese told The Southeast Examiner he expected this to expand to full time operations by early next year. It is under the command of Mark Kruger, who has served in Central and East precincts.

At an October 11 ceremony, Reese thanked City Council for its “investment” in the bureau, and community members “who never gave up hope that we would be back”.

Another speaker was Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees the Office of Neighborhood Involvement and its Crime Prevention Program.

She reminded those present that she was a former nurse, a profession that “gives a lot of satisfaction, but not many occasions of pure joy, such as this one”. Co-location of the precinct and Crime Prevention “will make for a safer community,” she said.

Katherine Anderson, one of the longest-serving Crime Prevention Specialists, told The Southeast Examiner the co-location of the specialists in a single office, accomplished earlier this year, allowed them a better opportunity to confer and compare notes than they have ever had before.

Crime prevention volunteer Dave Hillman of Mount Tabor said, “Progress comes with change. What we’re witnessing here is change; one we really like.” The co-location of programs means that “information, ideas and talent can be shared,” he said and added, “We’ll help in any way we can.”

When the precinct was decommissioned, Sizer and others assured the community that most of the same officers would patrol the area as before. Recalling this, Hillman said, “That’s true, but it’s just not the same as patrolling the area you work in.”

 

Convention Plaza rehab underway

 

Beam Development has passed some important milestones on its way to the redevelopment of the Convention Plaza building.

According to Beam’s Jonathan Malsin, the company has signed a sales agreement with both Portland Development Commission and lenders, and reconstruction is underway. They have also signed a rental agreement with Cascade Energy and are negotiating with the Technology Association of Oregon. The two entities between them will take up most of the building’s 40,000 square feet of space.

Construction should be complete by late spring or early summer, Malsin says. PDC had encouraged Beam to rent to one of its “targeted clusters” of businesses, of which clean technology was one, but Malsin says the company hopes to have both a restaurant and a coffee shop in the building as well.

The Convention Plaza, at 123 NE Third Ave., has become the anchor for the long-proposed Burnside Bridgehead Project, a four-square block development on the east end of the Burnside Bridge.

Original plans called for a mega-undertaking with building more than 10 stories high and comprising over 1 million total square feet. Beam’s original bid to be the project’s master developer was rejected in favor of Opus Northwest, which later pulled out.

 

City considers historic review changes

 

Representatives of the bureaus of Planning and Sustainability, and Development Services, last month briefed the Landmarks, Planning and Sustainability commissions on the ongoing Historic Resources Code Improvement Project. Landmarks chair Carrie Richter said the project will be “the hardest thing we’ve ever done”.

In the city’s national historic districts most exterior work on buildings, as well as all new construction, is subject to design review. Both property owners and historic preservation advocates have complained that the process is long, costly and burdensome, and may hurt the cause of historic preservation that it is intended to further. City Council last summer commissioned the project to address these issues.

Planner Jay Sugnet said staff is considering a number of options. One is to exempt things, such as temporary handicapped ramps, storm windows and the legal removal of fire escapes, from design review. More might be removed through a review of the definitions of “renovate, repair and restore”.

Another approach is to have a lesser, and less costly, level of review for certain types of work; Sugnet said candidates for this approach are changes not visible from the public right of way.

With regard to the restoration of historic features that bring vintage structures closer to their original appearance Sugnet said, “We want to make it easier for people to do the right thing.”

However, staff is required to have a fee schedule that recovers 100 percent of the cost of review. To meet all of these objectives, staff is proposing a process in which bureau staff alone would make design determinations, with no appeal of their decisions other than to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.

This bothered members of both commissions. Richter said she had trouble accepting such a procedure unless it was applied to “clear, check-the-box criteria.”

Planning and Sustainability commissioner Chris Smith said, “I’m concerned that there should be some place where you can go if you think a decision about your property is wrong.”

Sugnet said he agreed in principle, but added, “Appeals cost time and money.”

Another Landmarks Commission member, Brian Emerich, suggested a relaxed review process for “adding back some element formerly present due to photo evidence” on an historic property.

BDS’s Tim Heron said such a process would be “not easily documented by staff,” and likely to be expensive.

Sugnet said a discussion draft of proposed changes should be ready by the first week in December.

 

Buckman Historic moves forward; alliance broken

 

In a related matter, Christine Yun of the Historic Buckman Committee says that her group intends to submit its application for the creation of a National Historic District this month. The proposed district would be bounded roughly by SE 12th and 20th avenues, Ankeny and Madison streets.

However, earlier plans for an electronic poll of property owners in the proposed district, prior to submittal, appear to have fallen through.

At one point Greg Moulliet, who had formed Keep Buckman Free in opposition to the district, had planned to help run the poll. However, both Yun and Moulliet have since told The Southeast Examiner that the plan has fallen through due to irreconcilable differences over how the poll should be conducted.

Moulliet says he will probably resume his effort to get property owners to submit notarized statements of opposition. If more than half of all eligible owners pursued this path, it would kill the district.

 

Parking study hearing Nov. 13

 

Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is nearing completion of its Residential Parking Study. The project should be available to the public by early November, and will be the subject of a public hearing before the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission the afternoon of November 13 at 1900 SW Fourth Ave.

The study was ordered by City Council and prompted by a recent spate of large apartment projects that contain no off-street parking.

The study is examining eight recently completed projects. Staff has interviewed tenants and asked about their transportation habits and rates of car ownership. They have also tried to measure the degree of parking congestion within two blocks of the building.

In a briefing before the Planning and Sustainability Commission last month, planner Joe Zehnder said there were other issues associated with large new apartments including “size, height, ground floor retail (or the lack of it) in commercial zones, and how ugly they are. It’s all bundled up in change. Anxiety about change is absolutely understandable”.

The best way to address many of these issues, he said, is through the Portland Comprehensive Plan update now under way.

 

Hawthorne buildings threatened

 

One of the hottest large apartment controversies now under way concerns yet another issue: what is taken away to make way for the new growth.

Aaron Jones’s project on the north side of SE Hawthorne Blvd. containing 77 units, will include off-street parking and ground floor retail (“I can’t say how much,” Jones said of the retail in a conversation with The Southeast Examiner.)

The biggest issue here is the removal of two large, old and stately houses at 2607 and 2625 SE Hawthorne Blvd. Another may be how the project came about.

Doug Adams had owned 2607 for 17 years and 2625 for 31 years. “They were a great location with great tenants; I’d had them for years,” he said. For personal reasons, including financial ones, he felt compelled to sell.

“There was a realtor involved and most of the conversations were through him, but I made it clear I wanted someone who would keep the operation going. I never had any clue about the buyer’s true plans.

“The day after the deal closed, they gave 30-day eviction notices to 21 tenants. The realtor said it was a big surprise to him. After a newspaper article came out and I was quoted, Aaron called me up, very angry. He said it had always been a ‘dirt operation’”.

According to Buckman Community Association chair Susan Lindsay, Jones also reacted angrily when she called him and made a plea for preservation of the houses.

In mid-October, Jones told The Southeast Examiner that he is working with an unnamed party to move the houses intact to a new location. However, he also says he hopes to begin work on his project by December 1. House moving is a process that generally requires several months of preparation.

 

Urban renewal discussion continues

 

As reported last month, Portland Development Commission called an Urban Renewal Advisory Committee (URAC) summit in September to discuss the current direction of the agency and the role of its advisory committees.

At that time some of those present protested their treatment and wondered aloud if they had a function. Those conversations continued last month at the Central East Side URAC.

PDC’s Keith Witcosky said the agency is focusing on economic development, and they have advisory roles for the public centered on areas of interest other than geography, the role of the URACs. They may form advisory groups around individual large major projects.

The end result should give citizens better opportunities for input. “It will give you a context where we show not only what we’re doing but why,” he said. “It should make people feel they’re more engaged and knowledgeable.”

Perhaps, some URAC members said, but that doesn’t explain what their role now is. Central East Side URAC chair Susan Lindsay, while saying it is good to have more people involved, said, “PDC has moved on to a new wife or lover whom they find more exciting. You still do need geographic representation. We’re all talented and experienced people but we have to ask, ‘Why are we here?’”

URAC member Susan Pearce said, “This is a conversation that should have come to us months or even years ago. In the analogy of marriage, we deserve respect, and to be told what our new role is.”

Noting that the terms of many URAC members will soon expire she said, “We need a compelling reason to tell people this group has a future”.

Witcosky said the URAC role includes oversight of urban renewal district budgets, input into big projects, and “being the eyes and ears of your community”. At one point, he said, “Honestly, I don’t know what we’re going to do. There’s no stealth plan we’re trying to conceal”.

Another PDC staffer, Lew Bowers, reiterated that the direction is now toward recruiting businesses belonging to identified “clusters” – athletic apparel, green technology, manufactured goods and “traded sector” businesses – rather than geographic areas.

“There have been discussions of whether particular companies should  be directed toward specific areas,” Bowers said. “We’ve concluded it doesn’t work that way. Whenever a big company says they are interested in coming here, we show them a whole lot of potential sites.”

 

Streetcar progress

 

Between its opening on September 22 and the first week in October, the new Portland Streetcar’s southeast route has averaged 3,000 riders a day on weekdays, 5,000 on Saturdays and 2,500 on Sundays, Portland Streetcar spokesperson Julie Gustafson told organization’s Citizen Advisory Committee last month.

The older route, extending from NW 23rd Ave. to SW Lowell St. through downtown, is “holding steady at 11,000,” despite the introduction of fares in much of the route for the first time, she said.

Streetcar representatives hope that eastside ridership will eventually reach 6,000 passengers daily, but expect this will take some time. Ridership and fares are crucial to increase service frequency from the present 18 minutes.

Executive Director Rick Gustafson said another important aspect is reliability. The westside route had achieved a reliability rate of more than 98 percent, he told the committee. The goal for the eastside for now is 85 to 90 percent reliability, and actual performance so far is “a little lower than that,” Gustafson said.

Complicating factors are that a new prototype car built by Oregon Iron Works still has some bugs, and the system at this time has no spare cars when anything breaks down.