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.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Developer makes mistakes; city determines neighbors should suffer the consequences

That's just one of the headlines that could have been written recently in this continuing development debacle. When the state Land Use Board of Appeals made its ruling last month requiring specific changes to Wally Remmers's 4-story 50-unit project on Northeast Fremont between 44th and 45th avenues, some characterized the required changes as "minor," even "trivial." If that were true, why is the developer unable to make them? The plans, now in their third revision, still show a non-code conforming drywell and a wheelchair ramp that further demonstrate the building is too big to meet code. Trim nearly 4 feet off the northern edge of the building, however, and everything fits.

Cheap, fast & out-of code: Wally Remmers goes too big in Beaumont-Wilshire.
Before LUBA: The trellis and wheelchair ramp both extend too deeply into the setback meant to protect residential properties to the north.

After LUBA: Revised plans show a shortened trellis above a wheelchair ramp that, because of the beyond-maximum building footprint, reaches too far into the setback, per code. 

A detail of the revised plans shows a shortened trellis that complies with code—and the now partially uncovered, and noncompliant, wheelchair ramp jutting too far into the setback. 
Putting aside the question of competence and integrity on the part of city staff who thought no one would notice their late pardon of some of the developer's noncompliance, why can't the developer use the people working for him to apply their creativity and smarts to fixing problems, rather than trying to shove them under the rug? What would LUBA think of this evasion of justice?

Beaumont-Wilshire neighbors did nothing to deserve an out-of-code project unless you count creating a decent place to live and do business. Already neighborhood residents are bracing for the traffic, parking, and other expected burdens of a building that's out of scale and bringing unmitigated impacts to a congested east-side thoroughfare. Shame on Wally Remmers for taking a choice opportunity and burdening everyone else with the results of his poor business strategy. If you continue to build in the face of serious challenges, it's a gamble that you sometimes can lose.

The building now stands as a monument to one developer's hubris and the city's inability to show leadership in confronting that unbridled greed. How much longer can Portland afford to continue defending a noncompliant project; where are the benefits to anyone except the developer who most likely takes his profits out of town?

Noted journalist, activist, and well-loved former Gov. Tom McCall died a little more than 31 years ago, and he'd probably roll in his grave at the situation developing around Portland's east side for months now. It recalls words he said in 1982 (substitute "Portland" for "Oregon" and "out-of-code monster buildings" for the "stinking smokestack"):
"I'm simply saying that Oregon is demure and lovely and it ought to play a little hard to get. And I think you'll all be just as sick as I am if you find it is nothing but a hungry hussy, throwing herself at every stinking smokestack that's offered."

Friday, January 10, 2014

You could start with a chain saw

Is this where developer Wally Remmers gets everything he wants? To appropriate another law-dodger Ms. Helmsley, Is code conformance only for the little people?

The state Land Use Board of Appeals specifically ruled in its remand of Wally Remmers's permit for his 4-story 50-unit project on Northeast Fremont that the "city will need to require that the drywell be relocated" so that its location conforms with code.

Technical documents related to Remmers's appeal for that drywell indicate that the "drywell was installed 6'-1" from the new building foundation instead of the required 10'." However, if the building envelope was trimmed back nearly 4 feet, it would bring the location of the current drywell into compliance. It also would reduce the scale of the building and give building residents and abutting neighbors open space and breathing room, which will become especially important in the city's headlong quest for density.

Neighbors long suspected the project was too big for its site; still you see people stopping in front of it to scratch their heads as incredulity spreads across their faces ("How was this allowed?" they sometimes ask outright.) Let's embrace this chance to make the building smaller, reduce its various impacts, and literally fit just a bit better into the neighborhood.

Either way, the LUBA ruling must be satisfied, right? Secret meetings and special treatment for certain developers isn't how a well-run city works. Notice how these facts are glossed over in the official word from the city. City code would have given us a smaller building, and neighbors would see a decrease in the expected unmitigated, outsize impacts of the development, from parking to traffic safety and emergency response, important for a swath of east-side Portlanders.

Let the folks at right know how you feel about exceptions made for a developer exploiting the very neighborhood in which he chose to invest. Ask them why Northeast Portlanders suddenly have to pay an unfair price for one guy who didn't—and still won't—follow the rules.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Santa was so good to Wally "Oops, I Built My Building Too Big" Remmers

For developer Wally Remmers, the biggest Christmas present came a day late but oh was it grand: on Dec. 26 his appeal for the non-code conforming location of the drywell was quietly approved by city staff. This, after the state Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) said to find another place for it in its remand of the project's permit.

What's the point of LUBA if all city staff have to do is hold a private hearing among themselves and agree that even if the drywell isn't located correctly, in the end it just doesn't matter. And wouldn't that appeal have to have been made when the original application was filed, not this many months later? Luckily for city staff it was a "closed to the public" hearing, so they didn't have to share with interested neighbors—who have spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to pursue LUBA's evaluation—why they thought the drywell could stand as is. It paid for developer Wally Remmers to build as soon as possible (meanwhile doing everything in his power to delay the LUBA process), then appeal later. Especially if those appeals are so handily approved. (It looks, too, that the city staff were so fired up to give Remmers the go-ahead that they privately tried to approve his appeal twice.)

Why is the location of the drywell a concern? Simply, Remmers built a building 2 feet too big, and we taxpayers are paying to support, even defend, that mistake. 

Stay tuned for the next episode of As Wally World Turns.