Bridgehead development continues
Portland Design Commission last month held a second hearing for Key Development’s plans for a 20-story building on Block 67, vacant land immediately north of the Burnside Bridge.
It will include 278 apartment units, 200 structured parking spaces, and retail. Starting in a space about 35 feet below the bridge ramp, the project will have a podium containing commercial space and parking whose top will be roughly even with the ramp.
Here there will be a green lawn, exercise facilities and perhaps a spa. This will also be the base of a residential tower facing southeast and northwest to maximize views.
Following the Commission’s advice at a previous hearing, the design team provided for better public access to the top of the podium and placed elevators in the interior of the podium rather than on its edge.
The Commission called for additional work, but gave high praise to the project. Member David Keltner said, “This not just deals with a difficult site, but understands the culture of the east side. This is a real landmark building in a real landmark site.”
The site is part of the Burnside Bridgehead, four square blocks that the Portland Development Commission once planned to have developed as a single mega-project.
Immediately to the north, Beam Development is nearing completion of the redevelopment of the Convention Plaza office building. To the east, according to Lew Bowers of PDC, the agency is considering development proposals for Block 76, which fronts on NE Martin Luther King jr. Blvd. and is bisected by the bridge access ramp.
SEUL director Dufay moving on
Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Program Executive Director Anne Dufay told her board last month that the new fiscal year, ending next July, will be her last with the program.
Southeast Uplift (SEUL) is one of seven district neighborhood offices that provide support staff and other services to Portland’s 95 recognized neighborhood associations. SEUL and four others are non-profits that contract with the City to provide such services, and are overseen by boards made up primarily of representatives of the neighborhood associations served by the office.
Dufay has served as SEUL director for four years, and was selected for the post after a nation-wide search. Prior to that, she worked for eight years in the Neighbors West/Northwest office (SEUL’s counterpart in northwest Portland) and as a volunteer, together with her husband Frank, in their Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood.
“I want a smooth transition, with no stress and no drama,” Dufay told her board.
Buckman historic district defeated
Greg Moulliet, spokesperson of the ad hoc Keep Buckman Free, has announced that his group has acquired notarized letters from about 340 affected property owners objecting to the creation of an historic district in the Buckman neighborhood, effectively killing it.
The letters were forwarded to the State Historic Preservation Office, where representative Ian Johnson acknowledged their receipt.
Another ad hoc group, the Buckman Historic Association, had been trying to form a National Historic District bounded roughly by SE 12th and 20th avenues, Ankeny and Morrison streets.
If approved by the National Park Service, there would have been regulations governing the demolition of “contributing” structures and mandatory design review of new construction and any exterior work on any structure other than normal maintenance and repair.
With the aid of consultants and volunteers, the association had researched the history of the area as a whole and contributing structures within it, and had prepared an application for National District status.
There is never a formal vote of property owners on such a designation – one of the sorest points with opponents – but if a majority of them pro-actively send notarized letters of objections, it shuts down the application.
Johnson says the application will be forwarded to the Park Service anyway. “It’s their responsibility to tally up the objections and make the final decision, not ours.”
However, he says, “Our recommendation is that the Park Service not list this district, and I would be very surprised if they did so.”
Christine Yun, organizer of Buckman Historic, said her group hopes to gain a Determination of Eligibility from the Service – a statement that the district qualifies for listing – and that this will play a role in federal projects such as highway projects and mining claims. It would not affect private development, she says.
The proposed district was born out of concern for the effects of major new development in the area. Not only did some of this result in the loss of older homes and their replacement with buildings out of scale with their surroundings, critics charged, but the design of such structures showed no appreciation of the character of the area around them.
Mouilliet says that Keep Buckman Free advocates were divided on these issues. Some shared the concerns of the preservationists, and he personally acknowledges that they are “legitimate concerns. Others thought that new development is a good thing.”
There was dialogue between the two groups, and some attempts to find common ground. Both attended meetings of the Buckman Community Association, which kept resolutely neutral on the issue.
At one point. there was a plan for a joint electronic poll of affected property owners. At the time, Moulliet said that this would satisfy one of his main concerns – the lack of a chance to vote on the proposal – and that he would abide by the result. The proposal fell apart when the two groups could not agree on how the issue would be presented.
At last month’s SE Uplift Neighborhood Program board meeting, Moulliet discussed some of the tactics keep Buckman Free had used.
They did extensive outreach to the property owners, more than half of whom are absentees. They made it easy for opponents to express their opposition by holding “parties” where owners could come to get their objections notarized free of charge.
Later they engaged “traveling notaries” who went to owners’ homes for this purpose. They used lawn signs and other techniques to get their message across, and Moulliet said that a lesson learned was to give volunteers the freedom to think up creative strategies and run with them.
At the meeting, Eastmoreland’s Robert McCullough told Moulliett, “This was an incredible grassroots organizing job. People might have different opinions about your objectives, but your methodology was brilliant”.
For their part, Yun and other preservationists recognized as legitimate the burden Historic District regulations impose on owners trying to preserve and upgrade their properties.
They convinced City Council to push through the Historic District Code Rewrite Project. This made some processes exempt from review, imposed a relatively simple and quick Type I review process for others, and lowered the minimum fee for review from $900 to $250.
“It turned out this wasn’t (the District opponents’) main concern,” Yun told The Southeast Examiner. “It was more political than rational. They were saying, ‘Leave us alone. We want to be able to do whatever we want with our property.’
“If that’s how they feel, there’s nothing I can say. They just have to experience the new development for themselves, and see if their attitude changes. If it does, the work we’ve done will make it much easier to re-invigorate the preservation movement.”
One could say that a huge amount of volunteer activism in Buckman for and against preservation regulation has cancelled itself out and left this community back where it started.
Another way to look at it is that many more people were involved, and some of them have moved on to other projects, such as bicycle and pedestrian safety issues.
At the conclusion of their efforts, Keep Buckman Free found it still had $500 in its treasury. Some members wanted to use it for a victory party, but others felt it should be used for something the whole community could support. They donated it to the Buckman Association for their annual picnic, this year August 11 in Colonel Summers Park.
Yun says she plans to take a year off from community activism.
Six CEI startups win free office space
Six startup companies have won a year’s free office space in the Central East Side, and $10,000 apiece, as part of the Portland Development Commission’s Startup PDX Challenge.
The six winners were ActiveEd, Alum.ni, ClutchPlay Games, CoPatient; OnTheGo Platforms, and Safi Water Technology, all with roote in the Portland area. They will each take up to 200 square feet in a 3,000 square foot storefront at 1220 S.E. Grand Ave., most recently Mayor Charlie Hales’ campaign office. They were chosen from among 240 applicants.