By Nancy Tannler

Washington High School (WHS) and the surrounding park and properties are once again the subject of conversation  as we approach two deadlines.

Portland Development Commissions (PDC) has $985,000 set aside in queue until June 30, 2016 for the Washington High Community Center (WHCD). If no action is taken these funds will revert to the general fund.

(Note: PDC made special compensation to include this parcel of land in their original 1986 Urban Renal Project.)

The other deadline: the review of the 2016 Comprehensive Plan is approaching. Portland Public Schools (PPS) is asking that the land between 13th & 14th on SE Morrison be included in the Mixed Use zoning update to allow commercial use on the ground floor.

This whole area became surplus school property in 2003. It included two city blocks or 7.61 acres.

The original 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 office and housing use.

This property was zoned R1 – multi-family housing. All school property is zoned R1.

In 2011, the WHS building at 519 SE 14th Ave. was sold to Venerable Properties. Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) purchased 4.5 acres. The designation to convert the high school structure to housing and other uses was begun with the community by the late Art DeMuro, owner of the firm.

There was a tremendous amount of work done by the Washington High Project Advisory Committee and PP&R to create a design for a community center at the former Washington Monroe High School. They reached a consensus on a design and then five years ago,  the advisory committee was dropped.

After DeMuro’s death in 2012, Craig Kelly, Venerable Properties current head, decided to change the direction of the development within the building. He sought 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. Portland landmarks Commission unanimously voted to put the  property on the National Register of Historic Places.

In doing so, the WHS building no longer qualified to be developed as living spaces since this is not allowed under stipulations of  the National Landmarks Commission without a special Type III landuse review. Other types of commercial businesses are okay and they now occupy the building.

Venerable Properties currently rents the parking lots from PP&R for people to use who work in or attend events at the WHS building. It is assumed this  money is directed to the general fund but PP&R never confirmed this question.

The two lots and parking lot between 13th & 14th on SE Morrison St. are owned by PPS. As previously stated, they are up for a zoning revision. It is the suggestion of Susan Lindsay, Buckman Landuse chair, Mary Ann Schwab and other citizens that these properties either become part of the park at WHS or remain open space.

“This is an opportunity to add more park land to the city. Especially since this area has projects like the 21-story Yard at the Burnside Bridgehead, the LOCA building between 11th & 12th on Belmont and so many other high-rise apartments being added to our neighborhood,” Lindsay said.

So the discussion continues about the property that is designated to become a community center and park. City Council has a $40,000,000 surplus in the general fund. The $985,000 in reserve by PDC is a pittance of the $26,000,000 projected cost to build the community center and develop the park.

This community center and park has been promised to the people for the quality of life of those living in the inner eastside. The cry is that they need to use it or lose it.

In the meantime Lindsay suggests we  direct some of the funds from the parking lot rental to keep the property cleaned up and post some signs to let people know they are on park land and that there are rules.

Mary Ann Schwab and other citizens are planning on doing some fundraising for the community center.  What is PP&R willing to do?