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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Portland neighbors vs. apartment bunkers, Round 938

Another hot little land use controversy is brewing up on North Williams Avenue. The Portland City Council is about to pass an emergency ordinance approving a 10-year tax abatement for a 72-unit apartment bunker on the southeast corner of Williams and Beech (just north of Fremont, until recently the site of an abandoned record store). The developer is reportedly an entity controlled by long-time Portland builders Ruben and Jack Menashe. Neighbors of the project are concerned about its height and bulk, and they're sounding off.

A couple of them sent us copies of their protests yesterday. One wrote:

Dear Mayor Adams and Portland City Commissioners,

Please accept this letter into the record as opposition to Emergency Ordinance No. 866, the proposed approval of the 10-year tax exemption requested by RuJax 1 LLC for The Albert Mixed-Use Apartments. I respectfully request that the City Council continue your decision on the tax exemption until after the Bureau of Development Services has considered the multiple appeals to Land Use Decision 09-101831 and until a final decision has been made on this Land Use Decision.

My husband and I live less than a block north of the proposed development. I understand that the Planning Commission held a hearing on the TOD tax exemption request on May 26, 2009 at which time they voted unanimously to recommend conditional approval of the request to the City Council. Because we live slightly over 150 feet from the proposed development, we were not notified of the initial public hearings for the land use decision or the TOD tax exemption.

Given the enormity of the impact of your decisions on our community, I urge you to continue your decision until the concerns of the community have been heard. The tax abatement decision should not be considered an emergency under Section 2 Ordinance No. 866 on the basis that "there be no delay in the construction of the transit supportive housing in this project," because the developer will need to wait for the final land use decision prior to construction. There is no reason to process the tax abatement request ahead of the land use decision.

There are several flaws in the findings to support approval by the City Council. The Emergency Ordinance recommends that the commentary in Exhibit A: Planning Commission’s Report and Recommendation on the TOD Tax Exemption Request for The Albert Mixed-Use Apartments be accepted as legislative intent and as findings. However, the PC Report is dated June 12 prior to the City receiving multiple land use appeals, and recommends approval of the land use decision with modifications to a rear setback, to the interior parking lot landscaping requirements, and to loading space size requirements -- without regard to the appeals. In addition, the Planning Commission's approval of the tax exemption was contingent on the condition that 18 units be reserved for low income households and that the development provide ground floor commercial space, a dedicated car share space and LEED Silver certification. However, it appears that RUJAX is not certain it will apply for LEED certification, due to its high cost (

There are many other proposed developments (even along N Williams) that are more worthly of tax exemption benefits in this tight economic climate than the Albert Apartments.

I am a strong supporter of dense urban development as a way to avoid urban sprawl -- and even tax exemptions. For example, I support the proposed development for United Bikeworks at the corner of N Shaver and N Williams, as well as Adaptive Development Company's previous "Hub Team" projects along Williams that now house Lompoc, Pix, Lincoln, Yoga Shalla and other small businesses. I also support Oregon Energy Trust incentives and Business Energy Tax Credits for renewable energy projects and urban developments like the Hub developments. The Albert Apartments development, however, is not consistent with the neighborhood and relies on unjustified variances. Unlike the Hub Team development, the apartment complex does not incorporate elements of nearby, quality buildings such as building details, massing, proportions, and materials. Also unlike previous developments along N Williams, the Albert Apartments setback variance and height will result in negative impacts to the privacy and viewsheds of adjacent residences.

Please consider our community appeals prior to acting in this exemption hearing. Thank you for taking the time.

Sara McMahon Parsons

Another neighbor chimes in with this:


I am writing in opposition of the TOD Tax Exemption on the 65,000 sq. ft. new development called the Albert Apartments at 3638 N. Williams. The Neighborhood Association has filed an appeal of this project. And a second appeal was filed by a group of neighbors and community members.

The executive director of the Architectural Heritage Center registered their opposition to this project. Noting, "It does not appear that there was any notice for the demolition permit for the buildings at the above address, despite the much-celebrated prior long-time business uses by Brooks Grocery & Meats, the House of Sound, the NAACP’s offices, and the late Willie Harris’s Sportsman Barber Shop and Williams Street Market. This complex was identified on our Cornerstones African American Buildings History project, given its long and continuing African American associations over time. We acknowledge that the buildings were not designated by the city for Portland for their history, despite our efforts to provide some recognition and related reviews."

It is unethical and wrong on many levels, to go forward with a council financial review and planning for a project that is in still in early processes of appeal. The fundamental project descriptions, building plans, public benefits are all theoretical at this point and under administrative appeal. The strength and validity of the information you are using to base your decisions are still in dispute and so any decision you reach will lack strength and credibility.

The community must be given an actual voice in this matter and the value of their input must not be made meaningless by council actions nullifying their continued and rightful attempts at participation.

This is a slight on the cultural value of the community and its inhabitants who have a right to be heard and considered fairly before more irrevocable and precedent setting actions are taken by any parties.

This project is in a Design Review Overlay Zone, which means their are many considerations given this project that projects in EX zones are not awarded. It is not a free ticket to develop anything you like and it does not trump at every turn the needs of the abutting residential and small commercial uses. The Design Overlay is in place to prevent this sort of big developer from steamrolling community residents. This seems to be the way of the PDC, the City and big developers taking for instance the Paulson, Lents debacle recently.

Before the outcome of these appeals are determined it is irresponsible to to authorize and commit the City to tax abatements. There is no way to know what at this point you are committing to and what ultimate form the development will take. The area is replete w/ for sale, for lease, for rent signs. Adding a monster development on top of this will further diminish property values and the value of the community as a whole. In light of massive layoffs of city workers, teachers, emergency responders and the like this type of pork is outrageous and can not be justified. It is business as usual and the rich get richer.

Given that the facts upon which a Ten Year Tax Abatement would be granted are still being disputed by the neighborhood association and community members in two seperated adminstrative appeals, it is negligent to move forward with this approval.

The effect of a the Council's ruling in favor of this abatment would be to effectively squash and silence the importance of the public voice in this matter and matters like this by essentially negating the meaning of their participation in the process.

You have your carts before your horses. Giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to huge developers through public subsidies like this in a time when teachers are being given pink slips is dishonorable and just plain wrong. Not to mention that the project you are basing this decision on is still under appeal. What are you basing your decisions on? And what's the rush to demolish and build. Aren't their empty condos and building galore in the Pearl District that are the result of Development for the sake of Tax Abatement?

Thanks for your time,
Tracy Olson

One obvious question that jumps out is, Why the rush? Where's the legitimate emergency here? Perhaps Commissioner Fritz will ask -- she usually has her antennas out for that sort of process abuse.

The other irony is that the bus service from that block to downtown is about to be cut back substantially with the upcoming truncation of the 33 Fremont line, which will now terminate at Emanuel Hospital. And I believe the plan is that eventually, the 6 MLK line will also be chopped off somewhere near the infernal eastside streetcar. But there's no cutting the tax giveaways for building bunkers anywhere near a bus. Oh, no. We must have Fake New York, and not just in the Pearl.

Comments (21)

Thanks for pointing this one out Jack. What a disgrace. Portland's inner city neighborhoods, particularly those with a significant African-American population, are being thoroughly pillaged. Look at Mississippi Street. The condo/apt bunkers recently built are monstrosities. The character of that street is gone. Williams and Vancouver, check. Alberta has a nice shopping mall sort of thing going in where an old church was just torn down. Killingsworth is next. Any day I expect the commercial area between 15th and 17th along Killingsworth to be demolished and replaced by some "green" condos. The area was recently rezoned because of how "blighted" it is. Having lived in North Philadelphia, a truly blighted community, I am sickened when I hear that word thrown around in Portland. This city is a joke. Tax abatements for Menashe and friends... WOW. Last time I checked Boise/Eliot school could use some tax money.

And let me guess, they're building this with significantly-reduced or no parking?

Current residents (yes, you paying taxes and voting in elections, and particularly on the eastside): The city DOES NOT CARE about your quality of life. I can't emphasize that enough.

I know planners. I work with them. I know these issues. They do not care about you. They care more about hypothetical future residents than they care about the character of your neighborhood. They think that you are a whiner who doesn't understand The Plan.

Why we keep electing and hiring these people who show utter disdain for us is beyond me.

Because they are soooooo Progressive Snards

Typical city "planning".
The PDC, the "planning department" and the rest of them over at SW 4th street,NW 5th, and city hall, do NOT care at all about the people who actually live, work and pay taxes in the city's neighborhoods.
This deal smells bad. The level of corruption at city hall is epidemic. I too do not understand the Portland voter's complacency.

I own property. I improved it. I want my 10 year tax abatement!

So the plan for "progress" for this project area is:

1. Insist on a shiny new street car toy, even though there is a perfectly workable bus system in place.

2. Try to convince developers to build or renovate to attract residents. When you find no buyers, offer a tax abatement to lure developers

3. Since the tax base suddenly drops, there's the excuse to cut the bus line. Buy the new shiny street car using federal dollars, because that is fiscally responsible (hey, the money would be "wasted" if we didn't grab it!)

4. Don't mention who will actually pay for the higher operating costs of the train versus a bus. Don't worry about the public finding this out, because you'll be out of office working as a "consultant" for the same developers in a few years' time.

The buildings may be a fake New York, but the politics are genuinely and equally slimy.

When my wife saw the younger Menashe walking into city hall with a poster of the project this morning, she said "they're giving away our taxes again." I guess she was right.

So, it would appear that a city council position these days is obstensibly nothing but a highly paid internship where the greedy crooks hang out until a more lucrative 'consultant' position opens up with one of the many developers (or team owners) that they give away land to and give a free pass on taxes.

Ask how much Oregon lumber will be used in the construction. LEEDs has a big problem: it doesn't work for most of us who sustainably grow timber in Oregon. I have only 37 acres certified under the American Treefarm System as sustainably and properly managed. I also comply with the Oregon Forest Practice laws. But that's not enough for the City or the Port of Portland who have chosen the complex, difficult and exclusive LEEDs program. Don't buy local, go by streetcar.

Yeah, watch how both Sam and Randy will go to work for Homer, Gerding, Hoffman, Walsh or Paulson eventually. Neither one could get elected dog-catcher these days.

"work" is something with which neither Sam nor Randy is familiar

I guess it is time for Jack to round up some anonymous planner to interview. It can start off like "Why are you guys all so sick and twisted ? Was there something really bad that happened when you were a kid ?" I guess it is just the over-arching theme that a few nerds can "improve" all of our lives. Making them more "livable" and "vibrant" with their toon-town urbanism utopia...and green windows that open. If the public schools had not failed long ago none of this green building/carbon nuetral garbage would fly. It takes a country and media of dimwits to buy into the spiel. But the masses have and follow their Algorian logic. Someday soon post a map of the entire state with the most likely bridges to fail marked if you can. It would be a useful and a great service.

I live a couple blocks away, still the Mississippi monolithic, square, steel and glass monstrosities have yet to fill up because, who the f#&* would want to live in them?
The city forced me to ($$$) conform to early 1900s style when I remodeled.
At least they're "green" whatever the hell that lie means. They're wood glass and steel using plumbing and electricity like EVERYTHING ELSE EVER BUILT.
Bye bye Portland, you used to be cool.

personally, I hope they put some condos on K-Dub between 15/17 - that area is a s***hole and attracts a seedy crowd - my dog got attacked by a pitbull there! I'd much rather have a poodle park and condos to the ugliness that's there right now.

K-dubber, sorry about your dog. I live around the corner from there. I think that people are afraid of the people they see there. I hate to say it, but many people don't like to see black men standing on corners. Simple as that. I'll admit that some drug transactions go on in the area, but I feel perfectly safe walking there at all hours of the night. For the most part, people ASSUME there is criminal activity going on.

The area is a bit run down, but the buildings can easily be fixed up. Look at what Coast Industries just did to there building on the corner of 15th and Killingsworth. Looks brand new. Now that needs to happen across the street and at the mini mart and all will be well.


K-dub = keller williams = williams ave.


These developments are all over the place and are so lame the ground floors stay vacant.

I just ran across two of them last week.
Nearly identical.

SE 43 and Belmont and in Downtown Milwaukie. Some one go take a pic and send it to Jack.

What good is it to subsidize a development that replaces an abandoned building when the new one remains empty on the ground floor?

These are ridiculous notions spawned from the planning arena's enamor for smart growth, infill and TOD theories.

They don't work out as intended or to any benefit greater close to the cost.

City officials who are approving these are just plain stupid.

Go check out the low income/senior housing built at the old horse barn location downtown. It's nota nice place.

Officials were so proud when it opened.

Where are they now? Doing the same thing. Idiots.

K-Dubber = KW = KillingsWorth

I'm not afraid of black proven by the fact I live on K-Dub...but when my dog was attacked people by that barber shop were actually cheering on the dog fight...I was absolutely disgusted...and the dog owner actually threatened me about protecting my dog when his dog came back a second time - "If you hit my dog, I'm gonna hit you"

Yes, only one incident, but plenty for me to feel that the vibe there could use some improvement. Would I rather see some cool restaurants or shops there - absolutely, but I'll take upscale condos in a Portland minute!

That area of Williams has had really progressive growth and currently has some well planned projects, but Albert Apartments isn't one of those projects, let alone an emergency. I was surprised over 10 neighbors showed up just to oppose the tax abatement issue. I bet there will be a lot more for present for the Design hearing July 16th.

Why oh why don't we call this what it is? WELFARE... only not for the needy - if you believe in a free market then let it be free and don't give some players or is that playas advantages. And why the K Rice should owners who can sell out big $$ for condos not pay any prop taxes while the rest of us homeowners in older, established neighborhoods are forced to pay?

Here's another front the neighborhood association should attack on this project. The extension of decks, balconies out beyond the property line over the public owned sidewalk.

The city's lackadaisical allowance of public right-of-way intrusions throughout the city is decreasing the livability of our neighborhoods and not adding to it.

In this case the building codes are not being adhered to. Solar access to the sidewalk is lost. Street/sidewalk openness, sense of scale is diminished. Skyscape for pedestrians is lost. The scale of the project is further increased, and less in scale with the neighborhood.

It is sad that Leonard's bureau is allowing these flaunting of codes that hurts the densification mantra. Densification in our existing neighborhoods will come back to bite this city with this kind of disregard.


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