By Karen Hery

 

Change is hard for businesses and residents who want to make the most of the inner city. Not changing the looks of the place is even harder.

City staffers, long time community volunteers and stakeholders large and small have been poring over maps and statistics, responding to plans in citywide events and community meetings for well over a year.

The public comment period comes to a close in mid-March on several segments of the city’s updated Comprehensive Plan including the Transportation System Plan and Mixed Use Zones Project.

Personal concerns for family and the fate of a business’s future bring people like Marty Eichinger of Eichinger Sculpture Studio and Mike Redmond of Creative Woodworking to community meetings with questions about where Portland is headed.

As the Plan process enters its final stages, we can see a prioritized list of transportation projects posted online for inner SE (article 517442 at www.portlandoregon.gov). The public can find recommended major changes from the Mixed Use Zones Project Advisory Committee.

It takes some online navigating to figure out which intersections and roads are up for extra attention in the coming years and how high or how close to each other those next residential and business buildings might be.

Mike Redmond, inner SE property owner and business owner of Creative Woodworking, showed up to the very first community meetings. He  has continued to attend meetings and follow website information updates ever since to see if his way of life is going to be preserved.

There have been times in the Plan process where he liked what he saw and times when he didn’t. Redmond sees something much more important to preserve than his individual business in the exact same spot it is in now.

“The city tries to make everyone happy and you just can’t do that,” he says as he walks briskly from the busy lot on SE Taylor and 11th where fork lifts unload his specialty lumber.

Comprehensive Plans, mandated by the State of Oregon for every major city, are meant to predict and manage growth and change.  A walk or drive through any of Portland’s local business districts reveals both ideas whose time has come and those that came from the recent and distant past.

After many hotly-expressed emotions and an initial rallying effort to stem the tide, Redmond’s plans have turned away from handing over the company keys of his current working warehouse location to his adult children. These days, he’s wondering how well the buildings he moved into in ‘93 and bought in ’06 would work in a few years as an adult indoor soccer field.

In many ways, he has Kathryn Leah Rickson’s shortened life to thank for his new-found determination to see and influence the Comprehensive Plan differently.

“She was killed by a semi in Portland in 2012 and we only remember her as a biker killed. She was more than that. She was somebody’s daughter and she could have been mine.”

Even with state-of-the-art innovations proposed by in the new Transportation System Plan to better move large vehicles through tight inner-city areas, Redmond feels that continuing to allow heavy freight access just increases the likelihood that the growing stream of bike commuters and the increase in pedestrian residents, shoppers and brew pub fans is a potential disaster waiting to happen.

Realistically, Redmond believes the inner city industrial area belongs more and more each year to creative, active young adults likely to lead the next step in the progression from the heavy industrial activities that once happened near the river before the current light industrial sanctuary was codified in the last comp plan.

He predicts more and more small business creative work space and micro craft industrial uses as larger companies like Franz Bakery and Portland Bottling Company, move out to where trucks move more freely.

Sculptor Marty Eichinger, both a building owner and business owner, has been in and out of the shifting development scene of inner city Portland for many years now.

After flirting with being one more developer of a three or four story ground floor business and upper floor residential on Division St., he decided to set his sights instead on exactly the kind of building development Redmond is talking about.

Blueprints for The Geode span across the entry area of his sculpture studio at 2502 SE Division St. The plans show how the now one story workshops could become 25,000 square feet of creative office space for lease.

Eichinger will face $70,000 in Transportation System Development Charges intended to help fund inner city transportation improvements. Redmond must hope and advocate for a shift in the building use zones if his woodworking shop is ever to become a rainy day soccer field.

Heather Hoell, director of Venture Portland, the city funded non-profit that provides resources to more than 50 Portland business districts, knew both Redmond and Eichinger by name when queried about how the newest Comprehensive Plan might help secure their visions for reshaped inner and outer city workspace.

Hoell has spent the last 12 months representing neighborhood business districts on the Mixed Use Zones Project Advisory Committee.

The Committee has recommended zoning changes that simplify the code, encourage active ground-floor uses to create more positive pedestrian/shopper experiences, address building scale and mass, preserve the unique identity of neighborhood business districts and improve height transitions between commercial corridors and lower density residential zones.

“We are a city of business owners and residents that like to work where we live and live where we work,” says Hoell.

She’s proud of the fact that 98% of the 19,000 businesses in Portland’s wide variety of business districts have five or fewer employees – a much higher percentage than most cities in the US.  She knows what Redmond is talking about when he sees the strength of micro industry here.

Hoell is hopeful the code changes and positive incentive programs recommended in her committee’s proposed changes to mixed use zoning will affect both business owners and residents well.

Redmond has a new goal these days, less about preservation of buildings and more about safety and sensible growth.  While he’s busy shaping and moving specialty lumber, he’s also scoping the next best place to move his business to and putting his comments in on the Plan every chance he gets.

 

Find your parts of Portland and weigh in ways that create point values that matter for the transportation projects and inform land use committee members at www.portlandmaps.com/bps/cpmapp2. Comments will be accepted until March 13.