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.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Teardowns take it away

Ready for the Dumpster: This house, pictured a few days before demolition,
is already gone, taking with it 65 years of neighborhood history.

This unique, well-designed house at 3419 NE 35th Place had the misfortune to be sited on a large lot in 1949 in a desirable neighborhood and then put up for sale last fall. Developers bought it, and the neighbors strived, with the neighborhood association's help, to delay the demolition. For a time, it worked. They won a 120-day stay of the demolition, but it didn't last because the city helped the developers work around it. 

Why would the city bother to grant such a stay only to negate it a few weeks later? What a waste of everyone's time and resources, except for the developers anxious to get wrecking.

As with Wally Remmers's oversize, noncompliant building on Fremont between 44th and 45th avenues, why is the city so actively working against neighbors' interests? Every elected official at City Hall, too, seems to have checked his or her conscience at the door while turning a blind eye to these devolving influences in the neighborhoods. Leadership like this probably would have defeated the jackhammering of a freeway and thwarted the creation of Waterfront Park in 1974, and given the nod to subdividing Wilshire Park in the 1940s.

Did leaded glass and unique brickwork give way to a load
of MDF and vinyl? We'll know soon.
The other day I was in the local coffee shop and overheard a visitor from Southern California rhapsodizing over the houses of Beaumont-Wilshire. He raved about their individual character, their collective presence, the charm, the design, the materials! I smiled, because that's what I love about this neighborhood, too. As the creator of the Vancouver Vanishes project notes, there's value in this "first-growth architecture," the stories they hold, and the quality of materials and craftsmanship. Otherwise we're destined to live in homogenous metropolises. For Portland, a city that prides itself on a "green" ethos, it's worth remembering, too, that the greenest house is the one left standing, not carted to the landfill.

To see what numerous other cities (Portland conspicuously missing) have done to protect their neighborhoods, check out this online compendium compiled by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Portland for sale: ¢heap to least compliant, lowest quality builders!

Too big to believe? Under recent hush-hush changes to code, there will be more.
While Portlanders were out tending their poetry posts, the city was busy changing code. City staff must have put in a lot of overtime recently, not only to rush into a secret meeting to approve rogue developer Wally Remmers's violation of the Stormwater Management Manual—the city's overarching rulebook to water management for builders—but over the new year they changed the manual itself, presumably to encourage Remmers and his illk even more. 

Where the manual used to say that drywells "must" be 10 feet away from foundations and 5 feet from property lines, now it's just "typically." That little shift opens the floodgates to more irresponsible development in the neighborhoods. This change—and I'm sure it's just one example—shows how far city staff will go to shove a noncompliant 41,000-square-foot object down our throats, giving the green light to another wave of oversize buildings. Too bad there's no handy acronym for Not in Anyone's Back Yard. 

Before launching into a chorus of "Here's to you Mr. Robinson" as an ode to the lawyer who takes his orders from Mr. Reamers and then in turns inflicts them on the city, and then us, it's worth wondering again about the integrity of city staff and the rules they're supposed to follow. That 10-foot, 5-foot guideline came from state code, and has as its basis recommendations from working groups of experts and others knowledgeable in the field of stormwater management. Maybe Remmers and Michael Robinson can stop the rain, too?