By Karen Hery
It doesn’t always pay to be kind. Jarrett Altman, an established real estate agent specializing in inner Southeast home sales, knows this all too well.
She’s a big champion in her words and in her heart of the spunky little bungalows all over the city: those smaller places that make great starter, retirement and artist’s homes.
She also has a responsibility to help her clients. Maximizing the value of a piece of property and getting the best selling price can’t be ignored.
The numbers speak for themselves: If selling that small bungalow in the inner SE to another homeowner would fetch $250,000, selling it to a developer could mean a $300,000 offer. The developer puts about $200,000 into a demolition and rebuild and sells the larger modern home for $700,000.
$50,000 more for the seller and a $200,000 profit for the developer, if the larger building size is legal by code, are hard options to walk away from for other more altruistic and neighborly purposes.
Financially-driven decisions that trump courtesy play out all over the city in infill projects large and small.
It’s kind to respect a neighbor’s “solar access” – that’s tech speak for what’s left of your ability to garden anywhere on your property or warm your home with natural sunlight when a much bigger house or multistory multifamily development pops up next door.
It’s kind to give the people most affected by the size and look of a new building input into how it looks from the street and how it fits into the neighborhood.
It’s thoughtful to give plenty of notice when demolition or construction will affect traffic, levels of dust, etc.
Building codes have many purposes from safety to courtesy. Written and enforced well, they balance out financial interest and common sense, good intentions and good business.
Bob Kellett, Program Manager for SE Uplift, remembers when preservation of solar access provisions were written into Portland building codes, provisions that don’t exist today. He’s well aware of the various loopholes in requirements to post and deliver notices about demolition that leave surrounding residents and business people surprised and inconvenienced.
Many of us wouldn’t know where to start to be a part of putting more courtesy and longer-lasting architectural vision into codes for renovations and new construction.
Thankfully, Richmond residents and new parents, Heather Flint-Chatto and her husband do. They’re putting their backgrounds in architecture, urban planning and environmental building to good use, jumping in to share a seat on the Richmond Neighborhood Association and working hard to champion a new Division Design Initiative.
Flint-Chatto has enough background from her days working for the city planning department in Santa Barbara County to understand the issues and carve a path to solutions.
“Developers are reaping significant economic benefits,” she notes, “and although we are happy about the new businesses and economic vitality, multiple community members have expressed concern that we have, in a sense, given away the farm, allowing developers to build to the maximum height and building envelope across the board, with little in return for the significant impacts such as lack of parking, loss of solar access and privacy, increased traffic, lack of respect for adjacent context or existing character and no real ability for neighborhoods to have meaningful and timely input on projects.”
With neighbors not willing to wait for upcoming city planning initiatives that will be years in the making and wanting to see the good work already done in years past kept alive, Flint-Chatto is eagerly awaiting the first few actions of the Division Design Initiative. The initiative is being launched to make recommendations addressing design issues and concerns. This group will work to influence design in the development phase and hopes to establish a design tool box that other neighborhoods and business districts can use.
The committee is forming now and membership is open to neighborhood association members of HAND and RNA as well as community members, the Division Clinton business association, SE Uplift and others in the Division area. Nominations will be made for community reps in February with monthly meetings planned to start in March.
Paul Cienfuegos knows just how to turn community interest into community power. The Community Rights movement across the US is 13 years old with 155 communities having passed locally-enforceable laws in 10 states. Paul co-founded the Community Rights PDX organization two years ago.
“Residents of a neighborhood can exercise their inherent legal authority to say yes or no to a new development in their neighborhood,” says Cienfuegos.
While Cienfuegos’ claim seems contrary to existing laws, EnvisionSpokane.org in Washington state has drafted a Community Bill of Rights that would include the right of neighborhood majorities to approve or deny major industrial, commercial, or residential developments. This group intends to see the law enacted within the next few years.
If a few too many tall, boxy apartment complexes or that surprise demolition for the new mega-mansion next door has you ready to affect codes of courtesy and/or you are passionate about community rights in general:
• Two hour orientation workshops, to be a part of the Portland Community Rights movement, happen every two to three weeks with dates and times listed at CommunityRightsPDX.org. More tailored trainings and community rights questions, contact: Paul Cienfuegos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• General questions about the Division Design Initiative, contact Heather Flint Chatto at email@example.com, 541.915.0120. Attend February neighborhood and business association meetings to find out about being nominated to serve on the initiative.