By Midge Pierce

From Sunnyside to Montavilla, petitions are circulating to save the soul of Portland’s neighborhoods and classic homes.

In the middle of Belmont’s archetypal streetscape, Sunnyside faces the loss of a 127-year-old building sandwiched between historic structures. “This is the heart of the neighborhood,” says petitioner Stacey Atwell.

The building at 3334 SE Belmont fits in perfectly with the existing character and scale of the Belmont Business District, one of the oldest and best-preserved neighborhoods in Portland, she says. “The block is historically significant as a contributing element to Belmont’s streetcar era.”

“This screams of gentrification and cultural vandalism,” adds neighbor Wendy Chung. She and Atwell say that small businesses like Belmont Records, “make Portland, Portland”.

The petition cites the need for stricter policies to protect Portland’s integrity. More than 4000 people have signed it at this writing.

“Portland needs tighter preservation laws which would grant the City more power to stop historic building demolitions and more state historic tax credits to provide incentives to developers to preserve and sustain old buildings like this,” writes Atwell.

“We realize this is a long political road ahead, but until then, we will fight to preserve these historic buildings and streetscapes because they’re worth fighting for.”

Petitions can influence Council to direct reviews and potential revisions of land use policies and zoning regulations in the future, according to City sources. Amending land use and zoning can be a lengthy legislative process, however.

The term “by right” development means projects that abide by existing regulations and codes cannot be prohibited.

Happy Valley developer Valerie Hunter of Get R Done Construction told a standing room only crowd at a Sunnyside landuse meeting “Come with $2 million and you can buy the building back from me”.

Assuming that is not possible, Hunter promised to consider aesthetic alterations to what attendees called an unsuitable, modern façade. She reminded the group that she was not legally required to seek their input.

Neighborhood leaders fear demolition in the 3300 block may only be the start of tearing up the Belmont Business District.

• Ten blocks up, a petition has been circulated by resident Amy Brewer to coerce developer Mark Desbrow to reduce the mass of his three-story apartment project. She says residents behind the building on south facing lots will lose solar access and gardens. Desbrow has responded that he has made significant adjustments but can not reduce the mass of his building in a competitive market like Portland.

• In Montavilla, neighbors are seeking signatures to help save a charming, partially-renovated Victorian-style farmhouse dating from 1908 at 7707 SE Alder. The home built, by an early Montavilla grocer, is historically significant as one of too few remaining vintage homes in the area.

Petitioner Katie Peterson is asking developer Eden Enterprises to consider offers of purchase from neighbors seeking to save the historic home and the six large trees on its lot.

“The greenest house is an existing house,” she writes in her petition. Portland deserves better than destroying historic old homes.

Throughout SE, neighborhood leaders are scurrying to stem the tide of demolition and unsatisfying development.

• At the hard-pressed corner of SE Division and 50th, a mega, multi-story apartment will replace a popular food cart pod. Across the street, a 134-unit apartment is nearing completion. In all, some 300 housing units are being added to a half mile or so stretch of road ill-equipped to handle extra traffic and parking.

The year-long flurry of development that consumed classic bungalows, a warehouse and a church extends from the Division corner down 50th to Hawthorne.

• On Hawthorne between 49th and 50th, the troubled Sewickly bar and restaurant will be replaced by new development, according to Mt. Tabor board member John Laursen. The site is near the gateway to Mt. Tabor.

“Nothing can legally be done to stop the building of crappy apartment buildings,” says Laursen. Nonetheless, he is hopeful about the future of what he terms a former “stumble zone”, a “Bermuda triangle” of bars and restaurants.

Over the years, many have complied with a good neighbor agreement. He hopes the Sewickly transition will further improve conditions.

• The potential “upzoning” of the NE corner of 60th and Belmont is also raising alarms in Mt. Tabor. Laursen reports the that the influential family that owns Plaid Pantry wants to build a four-story apartment on 3-story zoned site. The corner is a recognized traffic bottleneck.

“It’s a failed intersection. PBOT should step in and stop this,” says Laursen.

For all who care about the future of Portland, the year ahead is a time for vigilance, letter writing and testimony to City Council.

Pay attention and speak out about revisions to the City’s 20-year Comprehensive Plan. Get Commissioner’s attention about objectionable development. Lobby for teeth in the historic resource inventory.

In response to whether citizen efforts and petitions can save what Portland residents love about the City, a city liaison writes, “Amending land use policy and zoning regulations is a legislative procedure that requires a hearing before the Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC) and public notification for that hearing.

“The PSC recommendation to City Council is followed by City Council consideration. A City Council hearing is scheduled and public notice is given. At the conclusion of the hearing Council may adopt, modify or give up further consideration of the PSC’s recommendation.”