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, January 30, 2015

How do you "redo" a meeting? We're about to find out

Is the bloom off the Rose City? Not if the
mayor's words turn into action.
The Bureau of Development Services, its Development Review Advisory Committee (DRAC), and so-called "business partners" (i.e., developers) have operated above the law for so long that I about fell out of my chair receiving this message yesterday from city ombudsman Margie Sollinger:

"The Bureau of Development Services has indicated they are going to re-do the January 8, 2015 demolition subcommittee meeting."

Further, Sollinger wrote: "Going forward, it's my expectation that all subcommittee meetings will comply with the Public Meetings Law, including proper notice and providing minutes 'within a reasonable time after the meeting.'"

The redo is scheduled for 8 to 10 a.m. Feb. 3 at 1900 S.W. Fourth Ave., Room 4(A). This time the public can come to observe, and possibly participate in, matters of the public's business.

As recently as Jan. 15, DRAC was proclaimed as "good public process." Is it? Now that the bureau and DRAC plan to follow Oregon's Public Meetings Law, that could begin to be true. But DRAC still has vacancies; among others, the spot for "low-income housing developers" remains empty, tellingly so during much of this demolition mess.

In the State of the City speech today at the City Club of Portland, Mayor Hales came out with support (starts at 22:19) for "new rules on neighborhood infill" and for making "demolition a less attractive option." He reasoned, "We should take care of what we have and invest in the plans and hopes of Portland neighborhoods that they've established for themselves." Hopefully the rest of city leadership and staff was listening—and is willing to help make these neighborhood-centric goals a reality.

Rumor has it developers already are threatening legal action, presumably to the delight of their high-dollar lawyers. It seems like the time and effort could be better spent sending thank-you notes (or apologies) to the neighborhoods where they trashed local heritage and affordable housing for fat profits that usually went straight out of town. The gravy train may be coming to an end; trash-and-build developers ought to be grateful it came, and neighbors will be grateful when it's gone. For a city that prides itself on sustainable, thoughtful planning, we can—and the mayor says we should—do better.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Believe this—"I want to buy your house"—and no more

As the thousands of readers of this blog know, a typical Portland home demolition exerts too heavy a price, whether it's loss of affordable housing, lack of hazmat control, or destruction of mature urban tree canopy and neighborhood character—just to name a few—all for one company's outsize profit. But perhaps the worst thing about this irresponsible era, as we close another record-breaking year of demolitions, is the saddest: The developers lie.

Examples abound, but here are a few that stand out:

Elderly homeowners are told by one developer that their house will be renovated, not demolished, as happened recently on 31st Avenue. Understandably, they are now too embarrassed and heartsick to go public about it; all they can do is pack and say goodbye to their shelter of 50 years, where they raised a family as previous homeowners had, before a trackhoe deletes it from collective memory.

A purchaser of a North Portland home pledges to neighbors that he'll move the house, assuaging them until the time limit for a demolition delay request has passed. And lo, here comes the Dumpster.

Instead of a promised crosswalk, the neighborhood gets a curb cut
and an unpermitted A-board sign partially blocking it.
Or Wally Remmers, who threw up an out-of-code building in the heart of Beaumont Village (tenants call it "The Wart"), claims a crosswalk is part of the project in an early meeting with neighbors when it was hoped a compromise could be achieved. A crosswalk would have done a lot to help pedestrians—his tenants, too—and vehicle traffic coexist on Fremont Street, an increasingly dangerous thoroughfare for numerous neighborhoods. All his lackey architect can do at the meeting is look momentarily surprised, then nod along. (Stay tuned for a report on a recent court case determining an architecture firm's responsibility in code-dodging construction.)

Or how about the developer who claims he's a "fixture" at neighborhood meetings, working "tirelessly with the community before the first nail is pounded"? Right. This is the same developer whose company conned another senior out of her home and then submitted for permits under her name so as not be discovered before the demo could occur.

Not long ago, developers were part of our neighborhoods, or at least cared enough to come to the neighborhood meetings to show renderings, discuss their plans, and gather feedback. They knew neighborhood support helped their business. Developers were rightly proud of improvements they were making, especially if in cooperation with neighbors. Now the speculators plying Portland usually call from out of town, showing up at meetings only when required and cruising the neighborhoods in unmarked trucks. Every time I see a For Sale sign, I see a house that's going down. 

Maybe the lies aren't the worst thing about these demo days. What's even worse is we believe them.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

There's such a fine line between parody and promotion

company now moving on North Portland specializes in what it calls the "knockdown rebuild." From the company's website: With knockdown rebuilds, "don't forget the added benefit of keeping your family in the same location with your local supermarket, schooling and childcare, gyms, family and friends"! Gosh, all those pluses add up especially when disregarding the rest of the equation: environmental irresponsibility, or loss of neighborhood character and history, and solar access, and additional toll engendered by this style of development.

The outfit's principal business address is a UPS Store in Nevada, and the local manager is Brent Keys. Keys's contractor's license has been suspended in the past; he's also been sued for construction defects by owners of 95 condominiums he built in Benton County—in short, just the kind of guy to join the rest of the pirates working over Portland's treasured neighborhoods.

Developers call it a "knockdown rebuild"; the city calls it a "remodel."
Either way, sending well-crafted affordable homes of old-growth materials
to the landfill is a shame in a city that touts an ever "greener" reputation.
According to the Portland Business Journal's most recent listing of the busiest 25 builders working in Portland, just 2 of them are from Portland. So that means the city where the profit is reaped likely doesn't get an economic benefit from its own significantly contributing resource—modest affordably priced homes in well-scaled neighborhoods with open space and mature urban tree canopy. Neighborhoods lose all these things and more when this type of builder comes around.

With few regulations for demolition, deconstruction, or hazmat control—much less guidelines for new development—Portland continues to be ripe for the taking, pushing lower-income families out of thriving, established communities along with neighborhood character and history. For neighbors the give keeps getting bigger, and the getting more painful.

For the boots-on-the-ground perspective, watch the movie by United Neighborhoods for Reform supporter Fred Lifton that contrasts neighbors' losses and developers' gains. The before and after pictures mostly show sites in Northeast Portland, but many neighborhoods citywide have experienced the trash-and-build style of development. If developers weren't so busy doing "knockdown rebuilds" of viable existing housing, imagine the good, desired projects that could occur in more neglected parts of the city.