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.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The FIR folks fly through permitting

A message to the creative small developers in Portland, if any are still around.
Anyone who's even casually observed the wave of home demolitions in Portland at some point comes to wonder, How can this be?

FIR—the Field Issuance Remodel Program—may be part of the answer. This is the special program at Bureau of Development Services (BDS) that gives the major players the first-class frequent-flyer red-carpet service. I'm not privy to the perks, obviously, but I believe this is how developers are able to submit for land use changes under the previous property owner's name(s), which helps. After all, neighbors' attitudes toward some land division down the block are different when it's "Aw, my longtime neighbor Ethel wants to divide her property for her grandkids, how sweet" versus yet another couple same-same big & cheap houses squeezed together on a piece of land that used to feature a well-sited 1950s ranch. 

Once "Ethel" disappears off the title, and portlandmaps.com, the bulldozer's done.

Or how about the way that code compliance items never stick to the FIR bunch, the state of their project sites, and the devil-may-care attitude for following regulations big and small? FIR protection helps. (Note that the city auditor found BDS inspectors lacked oversight—FIR sure, because "inspectors can evaluate proposed projects on-site," per the program brochure.) No wonder even BDS staff call FIR out as "something [BDS chief] Paul Scarlett will have to answer to"—it's further proof that the playing field for Portland housing development is so skewed any newcomers and the homegrown can't get a fair shake. Now all we're seeing is a near monopoly of the developers with the plans neighbors least want to see pasted over the landscape.

The smaller, more creative developers must be tired of being outbid, and if they are not among the FIR favored—good luck. 

News we can all use

The Portland Chronicle reports on upcoming development projects with a clear eye and straight-ahead voice. It's written by a small group of journalists, which explains the quality of the reporting. For now, and considering the power and coziness of Portland developers, they want to remain anonymous and continue their journalism careers.

Despite the lack of bylines, the site is a boon to those of us interested in local development and a great source of news about what's going down, and up.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sun starts to set on McMansions

One home allows light and
privacy for neighbors;
the other doesn't.
Los Angeles—a city not known for its land-use planning or curbing excesses—has enacted "immediate laws that restrict the size of dwellings in 14 neighborhoods." Full story here. Noting the effects of oversize construction on neighborhood character and the unequal distribution of benefit from that style of development, the story describes the neighborhood associations' (OK, councils') role in shaping the groundswell of opinion that prompted action from city leaders.

It's similar to how United Neighborhoods for Reform is building consensus for change through its demolition/development resolution, now making the rounds and gathering endorsements at neighborhood association meetings all over Portland.

Interestingly, many of the Los Angeles developers of the oversize homes were using a loophole designed to encourage "green" building features to build big even though studies, such as one by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, have found that living smaller is more environmental. You can drive a Prius all you want, but if your house is huge, never mind. (And if that house replaced another modest-size one built of quality materials decades ago, it's said that carbon debt can never be recouped.)

There are those, even in Portland, who might say the city has no right to tell property owners what to do with their land. However, reams of city code already tell landowners what they can or can't do, but none of it protects unique affordable housing and previous investors in the neighborhood, i.e., the people already living there and who probably worked hard to improve their properties and neighborhoods only to see them exploited by those who build, cash in, and run, leaving problems behind. As one of the neighborhood leaders in L.A. said, "You drop one of these giant houses in, and it just changes the entire character of the neighborhood."

On a walkabout of the neighborhood recently, I took pictures of a couple of the newer homes. After the paint fades a few years on, the quality of the wood—if it is wood—becomes clear (above left), as does the chilling effect of the homes' size and the blank, expansive walls presented to the neighborhood.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

News flash: developers like it this way

At Monday's demolition subcommittee meeting of the Developer Review Advisory Committee (aka DRAC), the group came up with a definition of demolition that doesn't meaningfully change what occurs now. We'll still see the floorboard or post in the air (usually summarily tossed in the Dumpster with the rest of the house after the city inspector pays a visit), and yet it's still a "remodel." For all the talk in the meeting of passing the smell test, this business-as-before definition--and the unwillingness to leave affordable homes standing--stinks.

United Neighborhoods for Reform has in its demolition/development resolution the guideline of 50 percent removal of a house as a "demolition," a figure used by many other cities across the country, including Berkeley, California.

In much brighter news, Woodlawn Neighborhood Association has endorsed the resolution, joining the ranks in sending a message to City Council that real change is necessary. Way to go, Woodlawn!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Let's call it a yesolution

Thanks to the Multnomah Neighborhood Association land use committee for giving the resolution the nod at its meeting yesterday. Hopefully this is the first of many this month on the path to City Hall in mid-December.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A golden opportunity for change arrives

This month the resolution from United Neighborhoods for Reform goes out to the city's 95 neighborhood associations. If you can't present the document yourself at your next neighborhood association meeting, clamor to get it on the agenda and show up to support it! Spread the word. The more endorsements we gather, the more we can show grassroots support for change at City Hall next month. 
Speaking of City Hall, we plan to pack the place in December to show how Portlanders feel about the rapid loss of unique affordable housing in our neighborhoods. We also believe that new development should create an improvement for all.

This resolution is a place to start. We hope you can support it. If you want a rep from United Neighborhoods for Reform to present the resolution at your neighborhood meeting, send an email to manaobooks (at sign) gmail.com.