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Friday, July 13, 2007

The neighbors are right, as usual

I see that The Oregonian, normally a bastion of fairness, now calls people "NIMBYs" in the headlines of its "news" stories. It's ragging on the folks who have the nerve to think that maybe a new, six-story condo bunker in the Irvington neighborhood, where even the existing high-density apartment buildings tend to top out at three floors, is just too tall and bulky.

Since the insane City of Portland zoning of the property, at 15th and Hancock in the historic district, allows a building 75 feet tall, apparently the O thinks it's wrong for anyone to object to anything up to that size.

In reality, the people who drew up that zoning and approved it should be taken out and shot. Let me guess: some bureaucratic hacks in Portland Planning Bureau along with esteemed members of the City Council. I understand Michael Harrison was a big player at the time -- the city's chief planner. Is that same guy who later went on to work for Jim Francesconi and Earl Blumenauer, and now lurks in that shadowy Portland satellite office of a firm called Parametrix? The people that "facilitate public involvement" for sterling projects like the aerial tram [rim shot]. I don't know all the history, but isn't Portland Planning where old Don Mazziotti also got his start? Good times.

But I digress. Bad call on this one, Mike. Another underwhelming product of that special Portland State urbanism.

Here's what the site looks like now. Not pictured is the beautiful historic bed and breakfast just next door, obscured by the trees on the right in this view:

Granted, the lot ain't much to look at. But does it really need a six-story building, with 18 condo units, built out to within a foot or two of the sidewalk? Here's how they say it will look with the condo bunker on it. Note that this simulation was reportedly furnished by the Lake Oswego sharpie developer, and so it's the rosiest possible view you can make of it. It makes the power lines sort of disappear in places, and it views the building from such an angle that you can't see the top floor of condo tackiness, which to its credit is at least set back a little bit:

Don't let the computer fool you -- check out the top of that power pole compared to the building height. This monstrosity is going to be so tall, you wouldn't be able to see the top of it in the "before" picture.

Superimposing the "before" over the "after," I come up with something like this:

Of course, it could be worse. The condo dude could be proposing more of the garbage that was built about two blocks away at 16th and Broadway. But just because his building's more ornate than a wart doesn't make it appropriate.

Six stories is out of place for that property; it's wrong to put that much housing there. If that's the zoning, then the zoning needs to be challenged, any way the neighbors can. (Of course, the developers could simply back off from their obsession with money, but that's not going to happen.) Here's to the challengers.

And raspberries to the O. Reporter (or columnist or whatever he is) Stephen Beaven seems to have a little attitude thing going about neighborhoods. Guess he's fixing to be the new Randy Gragg. Maybe they should have him stick to what he's good at.

Comments (49)

I understand Michael Harrison was a big player at the time -- the city's chief planner who later went on to work for Jim Francesconi and Earl Blumenauer

The chief planner Michael Harrison and the Jim Francesconi staffer Michael Harrison are two different people. I'm not sure which (or a third?) worked/works for Earl and Parametrix.

I agree with your main points. I also was struck with the bias of calling neighbors NIMBYs in the headline. That is a silly label, anyway. It's the people who live next to a project, who care enough to try to make it fit in with their community, that have made Portland's neighborhoods so wonderful. If the neighbors don't give a rip, who will?

I agree. Move that a block or two and it would be great. In that spot it would be terrible for the neighbors and jarring for the rest of us. I hope they have some success with the historic landmarks folks. The B&B owners seem to like it for some reason.

Having said that, I have recently learned (from regular posters here) that planning is wrong and interferes with the benign hand of the market. I’ve also learned that land is not an investment but something bestowed upon people by God, Thor, Muhammad or L. Ron Hubbard, and therefore they have the divine right to do whatever they want with it. (unless that only counts for M37 claims on farmland). So I guess the fact that the developer (who has the most touchy-feely website) compromised a bit is all that can be hoped for.

SIX stories in that neighborhood! Outrageous. I lived across the street from that bed and breakfast 17 years ago. I know the neighborhood. A six story condo building there? That's insanity.

I'm kind of tired of the term "NIMBY" being so often misused by the nya-nya namecalling cheerleaders of infill overdevelopment.

Properly, Not-In-My-Backyard has to do with something one wants and will benefit from, but doesn't want next door. The classic example is a new freeway: You voted for the funding, you want it built, you will benefit from the convenience...but you want them to tear up someone else's neighborhood instead of yours.

To be against these ugly condo hulks isn't "NIMBYism" at all. It lacks the hypocrite angle: No one who hates to see an oversized condo go up on their block is actively hoping for it to be built someone else. We're sick of the stupid things wherever they are.

The new condo monster wedged into our neighborhood is four stories, every inch of it as unsightly as it is unwelcome. Six stories at that location is absurd + 2. I hope the neighbors have better luck than us.

Jack, I'm in complete agreement. The neighborhood has not yet formally opposed this development and in fact is in alignment with many of its goals, but has thoughtful concerns about specifics. And boom, they get labeled NIMBYs. Sigh...

And the Michael Harrison who worked for Earl and Jim are one and the same. The planner is a different one (but both a good folks).

To be fair to the author of the Oregonian piece, the word NIMBY only appears in the headline, not the body of the piece, and headlines are (usually) never written by the author.

Why would anyone want to be fair to that snarky smart-a**, Beaven?

I have a hard time seeing how the neighbors are going to be successful. It would be one thing if the developer was seeking some sort of variance or outright zoning change. The battle was lost whenever they changed the zoning. The site is two blocks from Broadway and a block from a pretty big parking lot. There are plenty of locations in NW where you have older houses next to multistory apartment buildings.

Properly, Not-In-My-Backyard has to do with something one wants and will benefit from, but doesn't want next door. The classic example is a new freeway...

The best example, perhaps the original example, is that of siting a landfill.

Is this thing here an example of NIMBY? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on your stand on the present land use schema of stopping urban sprawl by mandating urban density. This is what you get when you do that way. If you don't like the land use laws and particularly if you don't like what the push for urban density is doing to Portland, and you therefore don't like this condo development, then you're just being consistent. But if you like the land use laws as they are, but you don't want the condo development built in your neighborhood, then, yeppers, you're a NIMBY.

Anybody else notice and bothered by the development around the old Victorian house on SW Taylors Ferry Rd, which I believe is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, which had been sitting elegantly amongst the shade trees, but now sits in totally denuded surroundings, on a lot that's been broken up into two additional lots? Sad is what it is.

"To be fair to the author of the Oregonian piece, the word NIMBY only appears in the headline, not the body of the piece, and headlines are (usually) never written by the author.".

I agree that the main problem with the O is editorial bias against people they label "activists". I returned from a sweltering road trip to Tri-Cities last night to read an email from a friend who informed me that a letter I wrote to the O was printed Wednesday. But it was edited to appear illogical,a fragment created by an editor substituted for a two clause sentence.

In the end, it is those people who appear stupid. And I think most of the reporters and sub editors are just as unhappy about it as we are. My cousin is un "underling" at a paper in Dublin and she says when a reporter or sub editor shows up in a tie, it means he has ambitions to be an editor. Once that happens, blind ambition and kissing "the right" backsides become far more important than intellectual integrity and truth seeking.

Isn't the modern use of stakeholder a broad term meaning a collection of folks who could obtain standing to challenge some action? The branding (like cattle) is good PR to avoid legal action. Now slap on NIMBY to the losing half of the stakeholders and you invite someone to sue, as a matter of principal. And cause delay, and NEWS.

Classic definition is a McMansion amongst farmland or forestland (or parkland). Applied here it would be a second condo tower next to the proposed one, so close that you could ask your neighbor for a cup of sugar. I'd make the present developer offer to pay a pretty penny to buy the adjoining property with the assumption that it too will be immediately developed to six stories. What's a view worth anyway? I am curious.

The author gets an F for inverted reasoning and losing sight of the goal of PR (but that is not too unusual today for all things related to property or liberty). Just view all land, regardless of present use, as urban reserves (or condo reserves) where the primary remaining issue is gaming on the timing of conversion, as here. Better to be first than last, and cry NIMBY -- TO STOP OTHERS from doing the same.

This case is about asserting that it is out of character with the neighborhood, which is so clearly not a NIMBY issue that the author just signed his own walking papers. Good luck next time.

This is my problem with Portland zoning (what I know of it). Unlike some on this blog, I am not opposed to density. Handled appropriately, I think it lends character to Portland, allows us to grow without sprawl, and encourages commercial and retail development.

What I do object to, however, is the seemingly incoherent patterns of density. I would have thought you would focus density in areas that have the infrastructure to support it. This means along main arterials (Burnside, Division, Hawthorne; 28th, 21st, 41st--y'all can tell I'm a SE resident).

As a good example, we looked at a house recently just south of Tacoma, near Johnson Creek. This has been a somewhat sketchy area for a while, with flood problems, shotgun shack homes, too close to Tacoma and 99E for many families to feel comfortable. I noticed recently that skinny homes and mini (2 story) condo units are multiplying in the area, and they are a dramatic improvement upon what is already there. With the proposed Milwaukie Max line, this is an obvious location for density.

That seems to me good planning.

But then when I see a condo unit crammed into what is a neighborhood of single family homes, on small residential streets that can barely handle parking on one side, I realize that there really is no rhyme or reason to this.

Sometimes it feels to me like our goal is Amsterdam (a popularly cited European model) or Chevy Chase, MD (no one seems to cite this one!): 6 story lot to lot looming buildings all over the city.

...seemingly incoherent patterns of density.

*yes*. exactly.

and thanks for this post, Jack, it's this kind of story that makes me want to visit.

Why does the simulation show a five story building? It's supposed to be six stories?

Hmm, I'll have to go walk around over there to get a feel for the idea. Parking seems like a potential problem, what with the busy bus line (8) and overflow parking from Broadway businesses.

It's interesting to contrast this with the fight over the condo development on the North side of Division, which is only proposed at 4 stories.

LC, maybe there's a "penthouse" set-back we're not seeing, but that's a good catch.

The more I think about it, the more I'd have to agree, 6 stories is too much for the area.

I have to say that Paul's comment is one of the smartest I've seen here..maybe ever.

That building does seem out of place in that specific location, but there are many areas as he cited that are GOOD for high density condos and the like.

However, there are so many people out there who whine every single time a condo is built anywhere, that they end up being like the boy who cried wolf and have lost any power they might have had to address the bad situations, by trying to make all situations bad.

However, there are so many people out there who whine every single time a condo is built anywhere, that they end up being like the boy who cried wolf and have lost any power they might have had to address the bad situations, by trying to make all situations bad.

I'm with you. The "all condos are bad" crowd, ruin it for the folks who believe in appropriate residential development. Which can, in some instances, include condos. For example, the Pearl District is a perfect place for condos. You can argue whether they should be getting government subsidies, but that area is prime for dense development.

However, this little corner in NE, not so much.

"Anybody else notice and bothered by the development around the old Victorian house on SW Taylors Ferry Rd"

Zeb Quinn, assuming you're referring to the "Pine Hill" development between SW 35th and 26th, the grand-daughter of the original homesteader on that property visited the Neighborhood Association to advocate for approval of that subdivision. At least the historic house is being preserved, but it sure will lose some of its charm, hidden behind modern McMansions.

If the SW neighborhoods hadn't soundly rejected the rezoning the City wanted in the SW Community Plan, there would likely have been tall condos going up there, too.

The "all condos are bad" crowd, ruin it for the folks who believe in appropriate residential development.

i think that's a gross oversimplification. it's much more than just the "condos" and their aesthetic that people may hate--it's what those condos (and their creators) represent, socially and economically.

so, the "some condos are good" crowd ruins it for the folks who want a more coherent form of development--and doing that requires a level of complexity and thoughtfulness that doesn't suit polarization into "hater and lover" camps anymore than "liberal and conservative" help us resolve larger problems.

i don't see this zoning as that incoherent.

handcock and 12th ave has a 10+ story hi rise. ringing the hood are other hi rise buildings 10 stories and higher like the fontaine and that retirement community nearby. the 75 foot height limit is below the heights of close by buildings.

the 16th and broadway building is FAR from overmassing its neighbors. in fact standing on the sidewalk next to that building one can see 2 buildings a few lots away that literally TOWER over it.

also 15th ave is a bus line, and many agree that bus lines should take the brunt of the density.

not to mention this building is only 4 blocks from the lloyd center, which is one of the largest building masses in the city.

i see the residential blocks of irvington as a treasure. the city really needs to preserve them. but frankly, the area is going to be ringed by larger buildings.

they end up being like the boy who cried wolf and have lost any power they might have had

If you can cite examples of when any neighborhood has ever had the power to stop these projects in Portland, it would be enlightening. The developer weasels have won every time. Or 99 times out of 100.

ringing the hood are other hi rise buildings

16th and Hancock is not in any "ring around" the Irvington neighborhood, by any stretch. It's several blocks north of the southern boundary, and it's in the center east-west.

i don't see this zoning as that incoherent.

i think you're describing consistent, which is very different from coherent. coherent is about a bigger picture, much more than just "are there any other tall buildings here?"

the difference, i believe, is enormous.

BTW, the tone of the Beaven article was every bit as snotty as that of the headline.

If you can cite examples of when any neighborhood has ever had the power to stop these projects in Portland, it would be enlightening. The developer weasels have won every time. Or 99 times out of 100.

true. despite widespread disapproval of the 26th & Division project (though they'll cite you "public involvement" figures from the few people who attended, against all hope), the project went ahead without a hitch. the developer both laments the disappearance of affordable housing and defends his affordable project in the same breath--which is stunning in its irony.

and so on.

Apologies for getting my Michael Harrisons mixed up. At least I distinguished this guy!

Welcome to the concept of building up instead of out. But, think of all the farmland we save every time they build a six story condo farm on your block.

With little Public notice, planners re-zoned most of the city to higher density in the 90s. Now we are starting to see the destruction it is causing. In the old days, zoning was not changed without approval of the residents. No more - it is now imposed on us from the gods in city hall that know best.

Those jerks will not stop until every bus route in the city in the city is lined with six story condos and every neighborhood is full of skinny houses.

We need to take back zoning power from city hall. It is just that simple: No zone change without a vote of the owner and surrounding residents, effective date: 1990.


well, lets say the idea of zoning there is to preserve what we have of irvington's historic home stock.

which is grand SFH's mixed with 2-3 story apartments.

the reality is that the area got all messed up with the lloyd center and the hi rises in the area. they form a bit of a ring around lloyd center.

so, to me it makes sense to say. OK. that district is screwed. build what you want there. nothing can be uglier or less neighborhoody then the lloyd center.

where do you draw the line? on this. certainly irvington should be preserved.

where should this line be drawn to preserve the neighborhood and to preserve property rights?

hancock seems like an ok start. just a few steps away- in winter within sight- of this proposed building is a 10+ story hi rise. so why not have hancock be the bulwark?

and seeing as how 15th is a major transportation route, its actually a far smaller impact then the hi rise on 12th. not to mention about 1/2 the height!

so yea, where is the incoherence?

Today it's Hancock and 15th. Then it will be Tillamook and 17th. Then...

You don't ruin a neighborhood overnight. It takes a couple of decades.

i agree that irvington needs to be preserved. but upwards building heights in areas where there is strong precedent and on major transportation routes is no incompatible with saving irvington.

its very common with zoning to have strong lines drawn. many neighborhoods have been preserved, not just in portland but around the world using zoning. so today its hancock and 15th. tillamook and 17th is different zoning. so yea, tomorrow and till they change it, there will be no 6 story buildings.

that is where everyone should concentrate their efforts. to future zoning changes.

not to prevent current property owners from exercising their property rights.

Yeah, screw the historic district. M37 forever.

Jack: Yeah, screw the historic district. M37 forever
A little known fact is that M37 DOES NOT prevent undoing high density zoning. That untruth is being spread by Portland’s planners, but, according to OIA’s Ross Day, the ONLY thing that counts is the zoning when the current owner purchased, so if Portland up-zoned in 1995, then down-zoned today, only those people who bought between those two dates would be eligible for compensation - NOT those who owned the land before the up-zoning. The small number of problems would be easily handled:
1) most people did not buy with an eye toward ruining the neighborhood and would not want to be compensated.
2) Those that do want to build could be allowed to build. Not good - but a few crappy condo farms are better than condo farms as far as the eye can see.
3) Or the city could pay them off as a fine against the city for its complete disregard for the desires of its citizens. Maybe we could free up the money by cutting the subsidies to TODs, or fire a few hundred planners.


I'll wager there are more people currently living in the existing structure than will be living in the proposed condo building.

I want to get back to the density issue, if I can. I live roughly seven blocks west of that location, and am intimately familiar with that part of the neighborhood.

The issue is the same one that we'll experience when (if?) the 16th and Broadway building ever gets fully occupied - where will people park? How can people walk safely, bike safely? How much traffic can *Hancock* accommodate, anyway? (The short answer: not much.)

Is there underground parking built in to the condos themselves? Or is the vain hope that people paying $$$ for a condo in an upscale residential neighborhood (you *know* they won't be billing it any other way) will suddenly take mass transit instead?

Take a look at what we already have along Hancock and Schuyler (one north of Broadway) from 15th to 21st, for starters - hordes of apartments that are being converted to "condos" (funny, they still look like apartments to me); streets jammed with cars, cars that can't navigate those streets in a two-way fashion (I often 'play chicken' with cars on my own street.)

I live in a duplex, take mass transit when I can - and it's a rare day when I can park my own car anywhere close to my place.

Adding six stories worth of more condos to the mix? Disasterous.

Whoops - I live seven blocks *east*, not west!

I'm neutral to negative on whether it's appropriate for the neighborhood (probably not since most of the other tall Irvington buildings have far more clearance from the street and other buildings), but I wanted to add that in addition to the number 8 bus on 15th street, which is a high frequency line, this site is two blocks from stops for the 9, 10 and 77, so it's hard to say that the zoning is off. The most objectionable part for me is that the building is way too big for the site, even if it had more setbacks. The same building on the parking lot at PTCU might be a better fit.

"you *know* they won't be billing it any other way"

Have you *seen* the prices in the neighborhood recently? "Upscale" marketing is not limited to condos, nor is it inaccurate. Too spendy for the likes of this (former) Irvington boy...

wow, does this have nothing to do with M37.

the property owner bought the property for the price they did because of the zoning. the time to fight this is past. the height limit is 75 feet. 75 feet is very much lower then existing structures in the neighborhood.

the historic district is protected by zoning. this is part of that zoning.

i would fight the zoning not this building.

Based on the replies from select, unbelievably hypocritical, others I feel compelled to change my vote. The owner purchased that land with the intent of building a huge condo thingy. Therefore, he has the divine right to do it. Any attempt to stop him would the criminal act of evil planners/activists (probably Californians). All zoning is an infringement of individual rights and anyway that area has had similar buildings for the last hundred years. If we the people of Portland want him to stop we should have to pay him a million dollars per condo, maybe two million if he intended to put granite counters and gold faucets in there.

Blimey, just typing that made me feel scummy.

what is amazing about these issues is that things are so polarized, that anyone who disagres with someone else, automatically assumes the other person is a NIMBY or crazy libertarian.

anyway, sheesh. for all i care, the neighborhood could lobby to change the zoning so the height requirement is 45 feet... i just think its silly to oppose a project for being too big, when the project is within both zoning height limits and within neighborhood precedent.

perhaps you could make an argument that the irvington conservation overlay is incompatible with the RH zoning. has anyone made that kind of argument sucessfully before? maybe something fun like keep the heigh limit, but limit the mass to be equivalent to church spires/bell towers.. .. maybe find something in the hood thats both tall and historic?

anyway, for those who don't care to look at zoning maps, the RH zone ends at this buiding (high density), then the zoning goes for a block or two into the hood at R5 (medium density), then the vast bulk of irvington is R1 (single family). also, there is a historic conservation overlay, meaning that you can oppose a building based on the guide lines set out in that document.

irvington has lots of tools to fight this stuff...

Although the proposed building here in your photo's would appear to be a size that dwarf's the current building. It is not a size that is inconsistant with this close in location of just 2 blocks from the Lloyd Center. Indeed within a few blocks of this location are may examples of tragic past condo's and apartements that were created in the 1960's and 70's. Those are truly bizarre looking buildings. Whereas the rendition you show here is very conistant with the neighborhood Architecturaly. Other recent developments in this close in location also tends to be at the upper levels of heigth.

herb, i hope you arent talkin trash about the Fontaine! i lived in the shadow of that building (literally) for about 4 years. i kinda love it- i love the green color (now back in style and on the martha stewart pallette)... and the gold sculpture in the entry. and the F of course.

Yeah, the article is snotty and maybe Beaven is not among those who deserve the benefit of the doubt.

And I don't see most posters here as being against all condos everywhere, but against unreasonable profiteering. Infill concurrent with infrastructure improvements is fine; infill overdevelopment isn't.

just 2 blocks from the Lloyd

Another convenient lie told by a member of the real estate clan. Come on, man. You can do better than that.

tragic past condo's and apartements that were created in the 1960's and 70's

And this will just repeat that awful history -- only worse.

The Oregonian, normally a bastion of fairness

I hope that was a joke...

how is this worse then the 60's buildings? its more to scale with the neighborhood and closer to the historic style.

in the style sense, its an example of the conservation disctrict working: if someone proposed to put a fontaine in that spot now, the project would be DOA because of the zoning.

so far, i would say the most convincing argument i have heard is that the building might benefit from a setback.

"And I don't see most posters here as being against all condos everywhere, but against unreasonable profiteering. Infill concurrent with infrastructure improvements is fine; infill overdevelopment isn't."

Oh where to start. Posters here are against "unreasonable profiteering." It is still a capitalist society last time I looked. If people are willing to pay for the condo, stupid Californians or not, I am entitled to whatever profit I can wring out of it. Immoral sometimes maybe but in a society that relies on private investment to provide housing a neccessary evil.

"Infill concurrent with infrastructure improvements is fine; infill overdevelopment isn't." Now this would be an interesting discussion, getting into whether expansion of infrastructure in order to foster economic growth is the proper role of government.

Greg C

Greg C: in regards to your post, it is a requirement of Oregon's and the City's Comprehensive Plans that "infrastructure" must be concurrent or existing for additional new development to occur. We need enforcement of that requirment, and it is time we start to demand it like many have asked in the past decade for transportation improvements for SoWhat before it's occurrence. 15th and Hancock might be a place to start again, asking the city to abide by it's requirement that only seems to be implemented when the city wants to NOT approve a project-a case of selective enforcement.

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