Citizens Plead Case to Keep 1.31 Acres As Open Space

By Nancy Tannler

The SE Uplift Board, Buckman Community Association (BCA) and community activists continue to petition with Portland Parks & Recreation Commissioner Amanda Fritz, Director Mike Abbaté and Mayor Ted Wheeler to extend the Request for Renewal of Purchase Agreement on the property between SE Alder and Morrison Streets and west of 14th. This option agreement was made on May 20, 2014.

Currently the 1.31 acres is owned by Portland Public Schools (PPS) and is considered surplus property. In the agreement, the City of Portland has the first right of refusal to purchase this property. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) expires on  May 29, 2017 and if the City  does not exercise this option, a publicly held asset will likely be lost forever.

The 1.31 acres of open space sits next to 4.5 acres the City already owns–where the long-planned and already approved Washington High School Community Center (WHSCC) has yet to be built.

Part of the 1991 PP&R Futures master Plan issued by commissioner Mike Lindberg noted, “the shortage of community centers, especially in the Inner Southeast Area, where densities are highest.”

Today those densities are rising rapidly and the rezoning of properties from EG1 to EX grants an increase in residential capacity. Thousands of new residents will be moving into this area and there is a scarcity of open space and parks.

If this piece of property is sold it will be zoned RH. The RH zone is a high density multi-dwelling zone. The maximum size of buildings and intensity of use is regulated by floor area ratio (FAR) limits and other site development standards. Generally the density will range from 80 to 125 units per acre.

Millions of dollars of System Development Charges for parks infrastructure is being generated by all the new development taking place in Portland yet PP&R and the City continues to tell this group that they do not have the money to purchase this land.

Time is running short on this particular piece of property. The citizens are asking that the MOU be extended another five years or better yet, bond the Community Center now and purchase the land before it runs out.

If we look to our past mistakes, we would remember that before World War I, Portland had been one of the national leaders in the playground movement. This movement began at the end of the 1800s as an answer to the industrial revolution realities of crowded cities and long work days.

Portlanders were doing well until the late twenties when money for parks came in competition with transportation. Roads were becoming crowded, so  instead of continuing to add land and building the planned parks, the people felt more justified to spend on bridges, arteries and docks.

The consequence of inaction and delay in pursuing what at that time was known as the Bennett Plan, lost acres of park land to the residents of Portland. Not unlike what’s happening with this 1.31 acres.

Like most other cities, our parks rely on the general fund or bonds for their operating costs. For whatever reason, parks and recreation services are less essential than other local government services so they are often hit hard in times of recession and budgetary shortfalls as we are experiencing now. The problem is that once this land slips away, we will never be able to buy it back again.

With everything we know about the importance of greenspace, humans and crowded conditions, losing one more plot of land is another lost opportunity.

Citizen Outcry  on the 1.31

By Midge Pierce

Is the City ignoring SE Portland citizens? Some SE Uplift executive board volunteers think so. They cite the city’s stall on purchasing the last parcel of the former Washington High grounds as the latest example.

Ask SE Uplift at-large board member Jeff Cole what is the most pressing issue today facing SE and he’ll say the deadline for exercising the City’s first right of refusal on the remaining 1.3 acres adjacent to the long-proposed, long-delayed SE Community Center.

“It’s do or die time,” says Cole with the option expiring at the end of the month. Cole is an at-large board member of SE Uplift.

While “hotplate issues” like homelessness, housing affordability, Infill and traffic take time to solve, he says the clock is running out on saving critical open space.

The site, still owned by Portland Public Schools, is integral to development of the promised Community Center. PPS sold part of the Washington High grounds several years ago, which have since been renovated for offices and the Revolution Event Hall.

Neighborhood Associations from Mt. Tabor to the river have passed resolutions in support of exercising the purchase option. The SE Uplift Board has approved several letters to Council supporting purchase of the open space.

At a recent neighborhood association meeting, SE Uplift at-large member Terry Dublinski-Milton rallied support when he called inner SE “park poor”.

As the quadrant grows, neighbors need more breathing room, adds Cole, explaining that many properties in the Central Eastside Industrial Area are being upzoned to permit greater residential densities.

Unless Portland acts by May 29, the parcel will likely go to developers since PPS has accepted a second option to buy the 1.3 acres from an LLC and Cole believes this action may be a violation of public process.

No direct testimony is being taken by City Council between now and May 29, but SE Uplift Board President Robert McCullough says citizens should make their voices known during comment periods.

At a SE Uplift executive board meeting, McCullough and other members called the City’s failure to exercise the option the latest example of Portland’s lack of responsiveness to neighborhood concerns. It’s especially egregious to inner SE which has no direct council representation.

“This park is not just for Buckman,” says McCullough, “it’s for all the Eastside.” The nearest community center is some five miles away from inner SE.

Some $48 million earmarked for development of the community center has been collected through system development fees and is readily available, according to sources. Cole calls the decades long delay in building the Community Center another example of the City making and breaking promises.

“Something sent this project off the rails. Somewhere PPS felt comfortable signing a second option.”

McCullough adds that the city’s right of first refusal is worth significant funds and should not simply be given away. “The City has spent a lot of money for rich people in the Pearl. It should shift some spending to the Eastside.”

Citizens who want the city to move forward with the community center and retain the open space acreage should appeal directly to City Council, the parks bureau and PPS.

Citizens Plead Case to Keep 1.31 Acres As Open Space

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