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.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Residential Infill Project participants walk to talk

As part of its mission to create improved new-construction guidelines, the Residential Infill Project stakeholder advisory committee—aka RIP SAC—recently toured some Portland neighborhoods, looking at new and old development to better inform their decisions.

It was enlightening to see what the walks included and how people responded. At the Powelhurst-Gilbert walk on Nov. 14, for instance, John Hasenberg (picking up his name tag, above) of the Oregon Remodelers Association and a RIP SAC member, opined that the demolition outcry was all about "rich people fighting other rich people." It sounds like he hasn't met any renters or lower-income people desperately seeking housing or even a starter home that won't be scooped up by a teardown developer and summarily sent to the landfill. Maybe he runs in different circles, but then why would he disparage those who can afford to use his services?

Vic Remmers debriefs with the group in Eliot.
At the Eliot walk later that day, Vic Remmers used the opportunity to market one of his firm's homes.

Meanwhile, part of the RIP SAC budget has gone toward a survey that somehow will help divine what people want to see in new development, although it's not clear how the answers will be interpreted, given how opaquely they are written, such as "New homes bring new families and vibrancy to neighborhoods"—huh? How does this benefit help handle lot sprawlers taking the place of creative site-specific architecture? Thinking of my own neighborhood, I have seen many classic Portland homes that have served generations torn down for huge homes inhabited by many fewer people, and sometimes just one person.

If "vibrancy" is something that only comes through new construction, I haven't seen it. In fact, many buyers of these homes probably have to work too hard to pay their mortgages to engage with neighbors and their neighborhood.

After the Eliot walk Nov. 14, city staffer Julia Gisler (in red) and
moderator Anne Pressentin (in blue) note comments by RIP SAC member
Rick Michaelson (far left).
At the Dec. 1 meeting, RIP SAC's own members wondered how scientific the survey was, and what it would prove.

So go ahead, take the survey meant to help "shape the project's evaluation criteria and potential options." But better to show up in person at a RIP SAC meeting to say how you really feel, in your own words. The next opportunity is at 6:10 p.m. for the meeting that runs 6-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 5, at 1900 S.W. Fourth Ave., Room 2500A. As the last meeting showed, the committee needs to hear from neighbors citywide.

In the meantime, take this survey, which might help get at the heart of the problem:

My neighborhood is (choose one):
RIP SAC members (from left) Garlynn Woodsong, Tatiana Xenelis-Mendoza,
David Sweet, and Maggie McGann stroll a Southeast cul-de-sac as part of the
Nov. 14 walk.
1. a place to live
2. a profit center

Portland's elected leaders should represent the interests of (choose one):
1. Portland residents and taxpayers
2. out-of-town teardown developers
3. short-term Wall Street investors

If I don't stand up for my interests:
1. Who will?

Water flows make woes

With the winter deluge, Portlanders are reminded of the usefulness of trees and permeable surfaces, which can absorb water instead of sending it into the streets and to overburdened storm drains. Even after shelling out big bucks for the Big Pipe, the overflows continue.

One wonders if the loss of mature urban trees during these record-breaking years of home demolitions (when a lot is typically razed of every living thing), combined with the sheer footprint of the replacement homes (one neighborhood's two-year study showed they are 2.3 times bigger) and the adjoining outsize hardscapes have added to our water worries.

The big players don't seem to mind, building headlong in the downpours and not bothering to cover their work. The following images show standing water, creating some pretty squishy material underfoot, in homes built in the rain.

Jeff Fish, former chair of the Development Review Advisory Committee, which eases the way for developers in city processes and politics, is proud of saying that developers "self-certify" as to the moisture content in the homes they build. I love that. "Looks OK to me!" you can imagine them saying. "Now cover it up with drywall!"

Here's a great article about mold and other problems with new construction. As the author notes, they sure don't build like they used to. He points out that the more processed the materials—and that's all the lower-quality builders pop for—the less resistance they have to mold and water. Several real estate agents in Portland agree that mold is a much bigger problem in new construction than in the older homes, and the article shows the many reasons why.

Here are pictures of the standing water in homes under construction in Portland. Pity whoever buys them.

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