What's happening now

Formerly the home of Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth, the Portland Land Matters blog explores citywide land-use concerns, such as home demolitions, with the belief that development should create an improvement.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

It's hard to scale down 41,000+ square feet

About the time the permit was issued for Wally Remmers's mondo project on Northeast Fremont, a staffer at the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability put out a plea for letters of support so that the bureau can win a grant from Metro to study development issues such as appropriate building heights, massing and scale, and transition to adjacent single-family housing. I'm not sure why these considerations aren't already part of the work at the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability, but if you would like to help out, contact Debbie Bischoff, debbie.bischoff@portlandoregon.gov or 503.823.6946or Julia Gisler, julia.gisler@portlandoregon.gov or 503.823.7624.

The contractor has only begun pushing the dirt around on the Northeast Fremont site but if Wally has his way, we will have a showcase issue of scale and a project that could be the poster child for the study. Here's a view of the west end of the proposed building adjacent to the existing office for longtime neighborhood business Barrett Automotive, at Northeast 44th and Fremont. 

It gets better. Here's a view of the east end of the building (the entire frontage of the building wouldn't fit on one piece of paper—apologies), with the existing Beaumont Health Care Clinic shown at right, at Northeast 45th and Fremont:

And here's what neighborhood and other east-side residents will come home to every evening if they work downtown or near the central city and as they spy the building's west side:

A previous rendering of the building showed plenty of windows on both sides of the building, but they're gone now. Except for a smattering of windows at the front corners (indicated by the blue cross-hatching), and the two existing Barrett Automotive buildings at ground level, there's nothing to break up the expanse of lap siding. Too bad—there's a beautiful view toward downtown that's soundly ignored; instead there are 12 balconies off the back of the building (those notches shown to the left, above) to take in any action happening in neighbors' yards and homes up the block.

Even if the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability doesn't get that grant, hopefully it can still do something about scale and other issues posed by these massive projects.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

It takes a while to turn a ship around

... but in the Richmond case it looks like Mayor Hales managed to do it, stopping the Bureau of Development Services from reviewing revised plans for the infamous building at Southeast 37th and Division. That debacle is still far from a success story, but at least it appears city government is responding to neighbors' concerns and not cutting backroom deals with developers unwilling to play by the rules.

For a time, the silt fencing disappeared at the Northeast Fremont site, offering much improved visibility for drivers and pedestrians. Then the silt fencing went up again, striking another blow for neighborhood safety. 

Last Friday, March 22, turned out to be a dark day for Beaumont-Wilshire as that's when the Bureau of Development Services issued the permit for the Northeast Fremont behemoth with no parking. I haven't looked closely at the plans but I wonder if developer Wally Remmers omitted closets for tenants, instead putting those Pod structures in parking spots around the neighborhood for tenants' clothes and other items. That's what he's doing with tenants' other possessions (vehicles), by pushing them out to public property instead of designing a self-sufficient self-sustaining building.

Many neighborhood residents are lucky to have and use off-street parking; nevertheless we vigorously defend availability of parking for bustling neighborhood businesses; friends who are not able to be bike riders, walkers, or transit takers; patrons of our small home-based businesses; caregivers; deliverers; and so on. Just because there is space available (and on one side of the block where the proposed project is meant to go, there are about seven spaces) does not mean that it needs to be filled to capacity as a car-warehousing area.

Looks like the only people enjoying these projects are the lawyers at Perkins Coie.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

We stand with our Southeast neighbors

Wow. I grimaced when it became clear the sidewalk-closure permit for the proposed project for our neighborhood had been fast-tracked without satisfying a critical required step—and still feel aggrieved it hasn't been corrected. Then I winced when I saw in the news that the folks at the Bureau of the Development Services had to be convinced of the state Land Use Board of Appeals' authority in revoking the permit for Southeast 37th and Division. Now, however, something's really starting to smell with the backroom deal to expedite a permit to renew construction at that controversial Richmond site, intended home of yet another mondo-project without space for all its tenants' possessions.

Yesterday's sneaky deal made Richmond's scheduled meeting for community input for next month moot, so where once neighbors (the original stakeholders, with the most to lose) thought they had a chair at the table the door was slammed in their face.

Who, in city hall or government, wants as their legacy these exploitive buildings? Without LEED features, a size scaled to fit the neighborhood, or interesting architecture, they contribute nothing to their environs and in return deliver a wallop of impact in terms of increased traffic, pedestrian risk, slowed emergency response times, and near-permanent use of on-street parking, already well-used by thriving local businesses.

When the Bureau of Development Services sees fit to follow its own processes and correct its mistakes is when I'll believe city government's working. Such special favors to certain developers erode taxpayers' faith in the system. It also makes it hard for the upstanding ones to fairly participate.

"Selective" enforcement—as well as expedited permits for certain people—breeds a disregard for the law by both would-be developers and officials. It begins with rationalization and/or laxity and can become corruption.

We look forward to details on the Richmond deal, and a course correction at the Bureau of Development Services.

UPDATE: Per this O post, Mayor Hales has stepped in to stop BDS from reviewing revisions for the Richmond project. Hopefully the reporters will dig for the rest of the story.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It's up to City Council to make a real difference

Northeast Fremont between 44th and 45th avenues: Future sight of neighborhood boon or neighborhood behemoth? Tell City Hall what you'd like to see.
After about four hours, the Planning and Sustainability Commission hastily voted—despite some hankering for an additional work session—to rubber-stamp the weak amendments put forth by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. Requiring .25 parking space per unit for buildings of more than 40 units is like dripping water on a bonfire: so little done to mitigate a known impact, and a gift to no-parking developers. As long as they build at 40 units and under, it's business as usual.

This almost pointless charade feels like we're not getting the responsible planning that we're paying for, especially when considering the project that may be permitted in this neighborhood. One side of the block has no sidewalk while the other side gets a 4-story, 50-unit apartment building without parking. The only way these two elements jive is that they both hit bottom on the amenity scale.

Under the proposed code amendments, for the building proposed for Northeast Fremont, the developer would have to build 12 or 13 spaces, with options to decrease that number significantly. After all the developer "buy-downs"—again, neighbors get nothing in these deals except additional negative impact—the end result is about 8 spaces to satisfy a projected influx of at least four times the vehicles. The city's own recently collected data shows that more than 70 percent of households own a car. This is data taxpayers paid to discover; why is it being ignored?

Leaving aside the question as to whether that possession is a luxury item or a necessity (think lower income worker with night shift or need to travel around the city, or a parent with several kids), the city also reported, "Many people stated that there were no amenities that would reduce their need for a vehicle." While I admire the bike-only activists and hope there are hundreds more who will live in these buildings, it's not an option for everyone.

One testifier summed up the debacle as boiling down to car storage. That's certainly a big part of the problem, but in our case eclipsed by traffic/pedestrian safety and emergency response times on Fremont.

One brainstorm: Make the cost of parking permits high enough that we recoup enough money to pay for sidewalks all around the affected block and on adjoining blocks so that pedestrians don't have to walk in the street. Many drivers will be circling for spaces at all hours, and the lack of good street connectivity and traffic controls already make conditions hazardous. It rankles that we have to pay for safety measures that mitigate problems brought on by the developer who's receiving all the rent checks, but at least the finite resource (on-street parking) can be exploited for the neighborhood's overall good as well.

Stay tuned for the City Council session, and let the mayor and commissioners know how you feel about the amendments coming their way. For more on those, read on:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Let's make parking requirements worth the work

Many Beaumont-Wilshire residents took time out of a sunny Saturday to help the city achieve clarity on changes to code regarding no-parking buildings, such as the one proposed for Northeast Fremont. If you can submit your opinions on the amendments soon to City Council (contact info at lower right), great. If you can also make it to Tuesday's hearing, even better. 

Amendment No. 1: Giving an inch where it will take a mile

Taking the proposed project on Northeast Fremont as the example for how the city's draft interim measures would affect the landscape, it appears that only about 8 spaces would be required in the building of 50 units. City data shows that more than 70 percent of households surveyed own a car.

Requiring such scant space for tenants' possessions hardly makes a dent in the impact, so how about better connecting reality to the requirements? Instead of the proposed 1 spot per 4 units, BWNRG recommends that the requirement should be 1 spot per 2 units. That compromise still provides an incentive for people to go without cars. 

Instead of the 1-space-per-2-units rule applying only to buildings of 41 units or more (as proposed), the parking requirement should be applied to buildings of 20 or more units. The distrust toward developers and the city is so great that many neighbors see the 41-unit threshold, again, as laughable. It's easy to imagine a wave of 40-unit buildings without parking, each sending 60-plus cars onto neighborhood streets for storage. That's not solving the problem, that's increasing it.

BWNRG recommends: 1 space per 2 units in buildings of 20 units or more.

Amendment No. 2: Don't count on Tri-Met

This amendment proposes that minimum parking requirements not apply to projects within 500 feet of frequent transit service. Since Tri-Met service changes regularly (example: the Fremont bus—no longer running 7 days a week or to downtown) and the service it provides is not within the city's control, we suggest that there be no exception to parking requirements based on any level of expected Tri-Met service. 

BWNRG recommends: Required parking applies regardless of Tri-Met service levels.

Amendment No. 3: Deals for developers stick it to neighbors

This amendment allows substituting car-sharing spots for some of the required car spaces. We're against any bargaining of this kind, and also recommend disallowing further reductions for motorcycle and bicycle parking, striking out code sections 33.266.110.B.5 and 33.266.110.B.7.

The requirement should be straightforward, simple: 1 space per 2 units, a formula that still does not cover the anticipated influx of vehicles. Developers can choose to make their properties more attractive by adding or increasing bicycle/motorcycle parking and car-sharing spots, but we'd hate to see the city apply unwieldy formulas and take on more monitoring responsibilities, especially when neighbors have to shoulder additional traffic impact. Under the recommended 1 space per 2 units, they’re already absorbing a majority of the anticipated vehicles.

According to the city’s recent parking-related survey, “Many people stated that there were no amenities that would reduce their need for a vehicle.”

BWNRG recommends: No reductions allowed in required parking.

Amendment No. 4: Spaces elsewhere are no sure thing

We suggest returning to the current language of the code that requires the parking to be on the same site as the development. As our case shows, properties change hands and uses—tying them up in use as parking lots for nearby residential projects makes the no-parking buildings dependent on an unchanging future. Buildings should be self-sustaining, self-contained in the amenities provided to tenants. Developers may say it's too difficult to design parking into the building or not economically feasible, but smart architects the world over—from the Pearl District, to Vancouver, B.C., to Hong Kong—can do it. Tenants not provided parking on-site are encouraged to rent or arrange spaces elsewhere individually if they choose, which meets the spirit of this amendment without any city monitoring. 

BWNRG recommends: Required parking must be on-site.

Amendment No. 5: Load up on safety

A loading space should be required for any building with 20 units or more, instead of the 41-unit threshold proposed. If the Northeast Fremont building is approved, serious questions remain as to whether the city's designation of major emergency response route can still apply. Imagine a garbage pick-up, a tenant move-in, and a delivery occurring at the same time—not impossible considering the proposed 50 units—how fast could a firetruck, ambulance, or police car navigate the congestion? Neighbors across the east side, not just in Beaumont-Wilshire, depend on a functioning Fremont for emergency response. A loading space somewhat ameliorates this safety concern at a site where on-street parking will be at a premium.

BWNRG recommends: Loading space required for buildings of 20 units or more.

Make it a moratorium

It's irresponsible for the city to be drafting measures to avoid known problems while simultaneously approving one of those problems, as it seems ready to do in permitting the Northeast Fremont building. A moratorium will save us all time, effort, and money in the long run, and should be embraced as a tool for allowing city staff, developers, and Portlanders to thoughtfully craft the future of the neighborhoods.

Last but hardly least

For safety issues dealing with transportation, whether it's calling for removal of the silt fencing that hinders visibility along Frermont, reporting car crashes (one occurred just outside that fence on March 6), or any other suggestions for improvements, call 503-823-5185, ask for Matthew Machado. He's familiar with the site and in contact with the contractors.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Developers build on a reputation

As we prepare for a media flurry next week regarding the city's amendments for no-parking apartments, let's look at recent stories featuring the people behind a wave of low-amenity projects across the east side and particularly the contested project on Northeast Fremont.

In last week's Daily Journal of Commerce article on the LUBA win by Richmond Neighbors for Responsible Growth, which resulted in a stop-work order on a building there, developer Dennis Sackhoff complained, "It’s extremely frustrating that we’ve been painted as the face of ‘no parking.’ ” The urge to distance themselves from these projects is so strong that Vic Remmers, another member of the Remmers-Sackhoff family/juggernaut, in a recent Oregonian article rebuffed criticism of the Beaumont-Wilshire project, pointing out to the reporter that "that project has been undertaken by a separate development company." 

Alas, as a couple of Oregonian reporters have confirmed, it's still a Remmers project through and through. That "separate development company" uses the same address as the Rammerses' myriad other companies. 

Interestingly, Remmers made the comment in a story on their planned development for Woodstock, which they promise will be sensitive to scale and neighborhood site significance, principles that should be applied to their other projects. "We're trying to build houses that fit into the neighborhood," he says in the story.

If they wanted to, the Sackhoff-Remmers family can change the fact that they've been painted as the "face of 'no parking'": by not building it.

Meanwhile, here are a few pictures of the project at Southeast Division and 37th Avenue, for which the building permit was revoked. It's pretty quiet down there as the architects go back to the drawing board to move the main entrance, but issues of scale and site suitability remain loud and clear.

Here's an idea for the Northeast Fremont site, which would provide more safety and visibility than the 130-plus-foot fence that exists now, jutting into one of Northeast Portland's thoroughfares. A car crash occurred there last night.