Day laborers want to own hiring site

 

VOZ, a non-profit that works and advocates for day-laborers, especially Latinos, is seeking to gain ownership of their hiring center on NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. at Davis St., representative Andrea Guerrero told the Kerns Neighborhood Association last month.

VOZ has operated on the site, which is owned by the Portland Development Commission, since 2007. Their lease expires in June, and from that point on they will be month to month tenants. VOZ wants to acquire the property, get additional funds from the City to run it, and get technical assistance from PDC, Guerrero said.

When the non-profit took over the property, they suggested the site would be a way to consolidate congregations of unemployed workers on various streets and corners into a controlled area.

Its purpose was to eliminate the practice of workers swarming about vehicles that stopped near them (creating safety and traffic hazards) and allow both fair distribution of work and minimum terms of employment.

Guerrero admitted workers still congregate on other corners. “We advocate their right to seek work anywhere they can,” she said. “Some of them have legitimate concerns about using the center.”

Day laborers here are hired most often for moving, painting and landscaping work, but also for construction and manufacturing, Guerrero said. “They are among the hardest-working people,” she said. “They are just trying to earn enough to feed their families for the next day.”

 

New Seasons builds CEI kitchen

 

Taking advantage of limited tax exemptions, New Seasons Market is creating a central kitchen in part of the former Tazo Tea property at 301 SE Second Ave., on a long-term lease for the space from owner Randy Miller.

They’ll use the facility to bake bread (except for their signature Artisan Bread) and various deli items, and for their test kitchens. It will provide office space for their merchandisers and buyers. The 33,000 square foot space will eventually be home to 84 employees.

The building has a total of 80,000 square feet, of which 40,000 are currently vacant, Miller says.

Of New Seasons business, he says, “I really align with their ideals and ways of doing business. I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather have there.”

Since the property is part of a state Enterprise Zone, the improvements will be exempt from property taxes for five years. New Seasons will pay taxes on the property. Construction is set to begin on May 10.

“It’s a great location,” New Seasons’ chief operating officer Pat Brown told The Southeast Examiner. “It enables us to get food out to all our stores in a short period of time.”

 

Good Neighbor bill may die in committee

 

HB3256, Representative Lew Frederick’s attempt to give “teeth” to liquor-related Good Neighbor Agreements, appears fated to die in committee.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, and the City’s Neighborhood Crime Prevention Program, encourages residents with issues with, or concerns about liquor license holders to enter into Good Neighbor Agreements.

Unfortunately, such agreements are only as good as the goodwill of the parties involved; legally, they are unenforceable.

HB3256 would have allowed OLCC to impose sanctions, including temporary suspension of license, when a licensee violated the terms of a signed GNA. It would have guaranteed neighborhood groups the right to be heard at proceedings where such sanctions were being considered. Finally, it would have allowed OLCC to order licensees to enter into mediation or binding arbitration to resolve disputes with neighbors.

“I’ve been dealing with a concern that there’s a lot more to the bill than is there,” Frederick said. Concerns were that licensees might be harassed over petty complaints, and that enforcing the law would take up too much of OLCC staff time.

“I don’t agree with that,” Frederick says. “I think that through this the ‘good actors’ could gain community support. I’ve been trying to find a way past and through the concerns, but they’ve been holding sway with my colleagues.”

According to one reliable source, a “major grocery chain” declared its opposition to the measure.

 

Council approves CEI permit surcharge

 

Portland City Council last month approved a surcharge on Central East Side parking permits, raising their yearly cost from $60 to $70.

The money will be used to fund activities of the area’s Parking and Transportation Advisory Committee, made up of delegates from the Central East Side Industrial Council, neighborhood associations and other interested parties, and allow them to hire a part-time manager to oversee and adjust the operations of the parking program and parking meters in the district.

 

Council imposes new parking rules

 

After hearing four hours of testimony calling upon them to do both more and less, Portland City Council last month adopted new requirements for off-street parking in new multi-family housing projects pretty much as staff planners had recommended, with a few changes.

The requirements affect new multi-family projects in commercial and high-density housing zones where, for the past 15 years, the zoning code had required no off-street parking at all.

The new rules will require parking at ratios of .2 spaces per dwelling units for projects having 31 to 40 units, .25 spaces per unit for 41 to 50 units, and .33 spaces per unit for projects of 51 units or more.

Staff had simply recommended requiring .25 spaces per unit for projects with 41 or more units. The alternative “tiered approach” had been championed by Allen Field of the Richmond Neighborhood Association, among others.

Existing code also provided exemptions from parking requirements for multi-family development in all zones that is within 500 feet of “frequent” transit service, defined as service every 20 minutes.

Staff proposed to impose the same new parking requirements described above, more accurately, to tie the exemption to actual current service, and change the definition of “frequent” to service every 15 minutes.

Council agreed to the first two changes, but kept the 20-minute standard. They added a provision allowing reduced parking requirements for projects within 1,500 feet of a MAX light rail station.

Council rejected a staff recommendation that developers be allowed to site required parking as far as 500 feet from their developments.

Commissioners Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz, among others, raised concerns about the enforceability of this provision, and whether it would be an incentive for property owners to maintain surface parking lots.

They did allow for joint use of lots with non-residential uses when it could be shown that the peak use times for each use would not overlap or conflict.

In yet another change, Council agreed to staff’s proposal that developers be allowed to reduce their required parking in exchange for providing space for car-share companies, extra bicycle parking and other amenities. However, Council decreed that no more than half of required spaces would be excused by any combination of such amenities. Fish and Fritz submitted most of the Council amendments.

Other considerations, such as exemptions from parking requirements for historic buildings, were referred to the Portland Comprehensive Plan process.

Opponents of the changes argued that the new rules would discourage development, interfere with goals of making the city less car dependent, and make apartments more expensive.

One, Ted Labbe, said that most of the testimony was coming from “white upper-class people who own their own homes. You’re not hearing from tenants.”

Peter Cowan, who lives near Mt. Tabor, said, “When I moved to Portland, it seemed like a place that at least tried to be different from the rest of the country.” In contrast, he saw the new rules as “a fast way to do a stupid thing. With more people choosing not to drive, there will be no need for parking lots. I realize there are difficulties right now, but we can manage the difficulties.”

Alicia Cohen, who lives near SE Division St., said the proposals are “so antithetical to all the pluses for Portland. It’s really fundamental”. She recalled the battle to defeat the proposed Mt. Hood Freeway, in favor of a future “not based on the vision of a personal car. I see so many more people walking and bicycling. I don’t think parking is a right; if you want it, you should pay for it”. At the same time, she said, she drives to New Seasons because auto traffic makes it unsafe.

Planning Commission member Chris Smith said on-street parking should be managed with an eye to discouraging auto use, and the City should let the market decide the need for off-street parking rather than imposing regulations.

On the other side, Field applauded the use of parking ratio tiers, but asked Council to consider the “cumulative” impact of multiple developments.

Asked if the new rules might be unfair to new developers he said, “If you’re late to the game, you don’t get to play by the same rules.” He doubted that cost savings from eliminating off-street parking are passed along to tenants.

Tony Fisher, a Richmond tenant and “refugee from New Jersey” who said he “owns a car I absolutely have to have,” urged immediate passage of the proposals. “You won’t get people to turn their cars in for bikes by building another building,” he said.

The Council vote was three to one in favor of the amended proposal, with commissioner Steve Novick absent. Commissioner Dan Saltzman said he thought “staff and the (Planning and Sustainability) Commission did very good work for a thoughtful ordinance in a relatively short time,” but voted against it out of concern for long-term goals to de-emphasize auto use, and the revised rules for proximity to mass transit.

Fish said, “Last week we had a fantastic, stimulating, historic debate” on the issue. Regarding the competing goals of preserving neighborhood livability and honoring climate action goals he said, “The question is how to balance them, and where do you draw the line. There’s a lot of room in the middle.”

He was concerned with “unintended consequences that make truly affordable housing unfeasible,” but said the Portland Housing Office assured him that there were no projects “in the pipeline in the short term” that the new rules would disallow.

“The public, the staff and my colleagues have engaged in a robust debate, and the work product reflects that,” Fish said. “While not perfect, it’s thoughtful and balanced.”

Fritz said the testimony had contained “very few ad hominem attacks. It’s good we can discuss things in a spirited manner.”

However, she admonished status quo proponents, saying, “We need to be realistic, and not say that if you don’t need parking others’ needs are met. There are a lot of people who can’t or choose not to be without a car. We need to be sure the carrying capacity for parking is there. I’ve never seen so many liberals speak on behalf of market forces.”

At the time the code was written, she said, “There was not an expectation there would be so many apartments build without parking.”

Mayor Charlie Hales emphasized the changes were a temporary measure, saying, “I think these code adjustments are the right set of things to do now. We should have people who care forward their concerns to staff – that’s how we proceed. I thank the neighborhood activists who carried this to me.”

 

Washington H.S. to get commercial approach

 

Having tried to redevelop the former Washington High School building for residential use, Craig Kelley and his Venerable Properties are now seeking to make it commercial space.

The property is zoned R1 for multi-family housing, but Kelley is seeking to use the seldom-used Historic Preservation Initiatives process, which allows historic properties in residential zones to be used for non-residential uses if historic restoration is part of the process.

It has been used to create the Wonder Ballroom in NE and, for a time, the Shogren House in North Tabor for public events.

The former high school at 531 SE 14th Ave. has not been used as a school for more than 30 years, and vacant for more than 20.

A 2004 master plan created by the Buckman Community Association, Portland Public Schools and the Portland Bureau of Parks called for part of the grounds to be sold to Parks as the site of a community center, and for the 1924 main building to be renovated for housing use.

The late Art DeMuro, principal of Venerable properties, began working on renovation in 2009, and in 2011 signed a purchase agreement for the building. He died unexpectedly last year.

Kelley, the new head of Venerable, told Portland Historic Landmarks Commission, “Housing on this site just doesn’t work physically and financially.” He declined to specify what uses the building would be put to other than that it would not be 100 percent office and that he wanted to make it “a vital part of southeast”.

Portland Bureau of Transportation initially raised concerns about the traffic and parking impact of commercial use.

Consultant Todd Mobley challenged their findings, noting that much of the building’s total area is taken up with wide corridors and other unrentable space, and that PBOT’s analysis assumed a worst case scenario in terms of usage.

Kurt Kruger of PBOT essentially conceded this, and said a new analysis is under way.

Six people testified in support of the new plans. Brendan Powell, a neighbor, said, “I would like to see something done with this property. I’d like to preserve the building, but also bring something to the neighborhood that we haven’t seen in a long time.”

He complained the property is currently a hangout for transients. Another testifier, developer Brad Perkins, said residential use here would be like “forcing a square peg into a round hole.”

An exception was Richard Milligan, who owns property across the street and said that parking congestion was a major issue with building uses in the 1980s.

Another testifier was Susan Lindsay, Buckman Community Association chair, who has worked diligently to restore the property for more than a decade. She produced a letter from DeMuro promising that the building’s uses would be residential and that he would present his plans in at least two neighborhood meetings. “In the shake of a wand, all the assurances I’ve given to neighbors goes away,” she said.

In a sometimes emotional response to Lindsay, Kelley said, “City processes have been fully followed. Art was a consensus builder. I’m not Art, and he didn’t have everything I have on my plate. You can’t run development by committee. There has to be a level of trust.”

Commission chair Carrie Richter dismissed Lindsay’s complaint by saying, “This was a promise between an individual and a neighborhood that we can’t weigh in on. (The requirements of) the city code is the end of what we can ask.”

Commission member Brian Emerick said he was “a little disappointed by the letter – the ball was dropped with regard to the neighborhood”. Emerick had extensive issues with the details of Kelley’s restoration plans.

The Commission eventually voted unanimously to support Kelley’s concept, but require him to refine it under a new process.

In a later interview, Kelley told The Southeast Examiner that he had pursued the Preservation Initiatives approach “because I needed to get a clearer idea of what I can do and can’t do.”

However, he says he is looking at “primarily creative work space” on the upper floors and, on the ground floor, either this or “positive” retail uses. He had told Linda Nettekoven of the HAND neighborhood that he might include some residential uses, but he now says “it just doesn’t fit very well,” given the need for separate entrances and support systems for the two uses. “I’d never say never, but it appears unlikely.”

Since the hearing, he has met with Lindsay and plans to meet with the BCA “sooner rather than later”. Concerning his failure to do this before the hearing he says, “I could always have done more, but I did the best I could.” Given the building’s state of deterioration he said, “I was concerned about what might happen if I didn’t move forward.”

Lindsay is disappointed that the decision on the building’s use “went through Landmarks instead of public review”. Aside from this, she said her biggest concern is about the traffic and parking the public could generate.

“It could have a significant impact on the surrounding neighborhood, especially with a new community center next door – but we don’t know when or if that will come. We would like to see residential use here to support Buckman School. If the economics of saving Washington High School in historic fashion with housing is impossible, then creative work space is the best place to go. We would like it to be as car-free as possible.”

She adds, “I’m completely sympathetic to Craig Kelley and want to work with him. BCA is all about saving this building, and always has been.”

 

Burnside Bridgehead tower designed reviewed

 

Key Development of Hood River last month presented their plans for a residential tower at the Burnside Bridgehead to the Portland Design Commission in an informal Design Advisory session, and came away with the advice that they should do more to let the public in on the fun.

The project is slated for Block 67, bounded by NE Second and Third avenues, Couch St., and the east end of the Burnside Bridge. It is part of the four-square block Burnside Bridgehead that Portland Development Commission acquired in hopes of creating a single mega-project, and is now developing piecemeal.

As presented by architect Jeff Kovel, the project will have a podium at street level rising to the bridge 35 feet above. This will hold a garage for 155 cars and, at street level, up to 30,000 square feet of commercial space.

On top of the podium will be a thin tower surrounded by a green park; at the tower’s base will be a fitness center, club room, and barbecue pits. The tower will be at a diagonal angle to the street grid, running southeast to northwest to maximize views.

It will have 224 units, at 16 to a floor, ranging in size from studios to two-bedrooms. The tower will be clad in “light, reflective material,” Kovel said, reflecting the sky and clouds.

The project team hopes to use the building entrances to bring people to the ground level, which today is a dark and uninviting area, Kovel said.

He originally wanted to incorporate the existing skate park below the bridge into the project, he said, but the response of the park creators was ‘let us do our thing while you do your thing’. Instead, he contemplates a place for people to view the park from 25 feet up.

The chief criticism of the Commission members was lack of easy access to the project, particularly the top of the podium. “This is such a beacon,” Commission member Jane Hanson said. “People will be wanting to go there who’d never want to walk across the Burnside Bridge ever.”

Another Commission member said lack of access might make people resent the podium. “You can look at this two ways: it’s ‘for everybody’ versus ‘I want to be part of this and I can’t be.’

Kovel replied, “All of us were interested in tying into the bridge, but the more you work at it, the more problems you run into.”

Among others things, he said, the bridge is an historic structure and adding to it would involve an official process of undetermined length.

Despite the criticism, Commission members offered strong support for the concept. “This is really bold and it’s just what we have to have down there,” one said, “but it needs to be done right.”