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, August 1, 2014

The road looks long

This is a hard one to write. After success at the state Land Use Board of Appeals the first time around, Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth lost the next one. Depleted of energy and resources, we activist neighbors closed our case even as we continue to demand that the building meet code. The city's inability to bring the project into compliance gives pause, as does the ruling itself, which affirmed the city's decision to grant the permit for the contested 50-unit building on Northeast Fremont between 44th and 45th avenues. 

Having read the decision several times—and I've made a living reading legal documents—I confess I still don't understand it, but welcome insight from those who might. One supporter said the board seemed swayed by the power of an already-built building (something that also benefited Dennis Sackhoff—a relative of Wally Remmers's—down in the Richmond neighborhood). No wonder Remmers, like Sackhoff, built headlong in the face of a LUBA legal challenge, throwing as many delays into neighbors' path as he could. It worked.

At the end of the day, I wouldn't recommend the LUBA process to anyone. Save those thousands of dollars for moving expenses, hosting séances to connect with the lost heart and soul of ex-activist now-Commissioner Amanda Fritz, and supporting candidates who prioritize Portlanders' interests over those of out-of-town developers whose projects exact an inordinate toll on places and people. 

Blight or benefit to the neighborhood? The writing's on the wall for Remmers's project in Beaumont-Wilshire.
Here on the eve of Fremont Fest, business owners are gussying up their storefronts for the biggest neighborhood event of the year. Remmers's project, too, is putting its best face forward and showing itself to be the eyesore that neighbors feared it would become. Just a few months after opening its doors, perhaps the building's only fans are taggers—plenty of taupe canvas for everyone and absentee owners/managers make it easy to leave a mark.

Questions outnumber the answers.
Meanwhile, the city has presented its antidote to the spate of demolitions and low-quality development spreading citywide. Amid the speechifying (two hours) and softball questions (15 minutes) at a June forum at Concordia University, city staffer Jill Grenda talked at length about the city's response to the demo epidemic: an elaborate, design-heavy door-hanger that builders would use to notify affected neighbors of home demolitions. Sounds like common sense, except for the part about how it's completely voluntary. Seriously, taxpayers ought to get a refund for the staff time spent on the project.

But that's not all of the city's effort. Grenda also noted that the Bureau of Development Services planned to put a phone number on its website to address concerns regarding asbestos and disposal of other contaminants released in the demolition process. If the city's inaction and lack of meaningful change offends you, you're not alone and feel free to complain loudly to elected leaders. I wouldn't call Grenda, though; last time I wondered aloud to her about why Beaumont-Wilshire's project wouldn't be brought into compliance, she laughed and hung up on me. Portland is the city that works—for Wally Remmers. One wonders how many millions a guy needs when he's already having a hard time finding legit ways to spend them.

(Speaking of "demolition," at a meeting of the Development Review Advisory Committee—which is overwhelmingly made up of builders and their representatives, from consultants to attorneys—a city staffer finally acknowledged that Portland's definition of "remodel" doesn't pass the "straight-face" test. When such a remodel leaves nothing standing, you could argue that you're using the same dirt, right?)

Senior planner Jill Grenda (middle) presented the city's response to the public outcry at the spate of demolitions—look out for that phone number on the BDS website.
Never mind the loss of neighborhood character and heritage and unique, affordable housing, the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability would rather Portlanders focus on entering their new contest! Nominate your favorite view or gazing spot! Win prizes! (OK, kidding about the last part.) With that in mind I took a look around my ever-changing neighborhood and this is what I saw:

A newly built urban dacha dwarves its neighbors.


On Fremont, Wally Remmers makes his presence known.

Judging from the response of city staff and leaders to the report from the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission and plenty of neighborhood testimony at City Hall yesterday regarding the record-setting number of home demolitions, soon there may not be much of old Portland left to love. While city staff in the balcony lampooned preservation-minded activists for being too into history and guffawed at every utterance of "equity," it appeared all the words spoken in defense of protecting existing, "first-growth" architecture were falling on deaf ears.

Amid the demo-related testimony, I couldn't help but note the several impassioned neighbors recounting their first taste of another Remmers project running roughshod on Northeast 22nd Avenue. With their widening reputation, the Remmers fellas now are sending out agents to do the dirty work of buying properties under other names. For the record, folks, Jodi Jennings and J2 (J-2?) Investments are not neighbors' friend. 

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