By Lee Perlman
For the Hollywood Star, January, 2010
The Portland bureaus of Parks, and Planning and Sustainability, aired new draft rules for changes in the use of public athletic fields at a lightly attended meeting last month. They will be heard, and perhaps acted on, by the Portland Planning Commission on January 12 at 1900 S.W. Fourth Ave.
Currently, most changes in the nature and use of public athletic fields operated by the Parks Bureau or a school district require a conditional use permit. Obtaining one usually involves a Type III review process, with a mandatory public hearing before a hearings officer and a chance to appeal the decision to the Portland City Council. In some cases, the proposal would instead allow the school or bureau to make the change after allowing for public input on the change and, if interested parties desire, a chance to create a Good Neighbor Agreement between the field owner and affected neighbors. Such a change in procedure is proposed for the conversion of a field to serve a different age group, an issue that was a point of conflict recently at Beverly Cleary School. Another change would downgrade the addition of a sound system to a field that doesn’t have one from a Type III to a Type II (lower level) review. In yet another change, public bodies would have a grace period of 10 years, rather than the current three, to renew the active use of an athletic field without having to obtain a new conditional use.
Parks planner Brett Horner argued that, in addition to being expensive and cumbersome, the conditional use process didn’t necessarily address the concerns of neighbors very well. The new system would hopefully provide a level and type of process appropriate to its impact, he said. He noted that the changes at least provide for public notification and discussion in some cases where there are no such requirements at all, such as a small increase in the size of an existing concession stand or a decrease in the amount of parking. He conceded that Good Neighbor Agreements are typically not legally binding and difficult to enforce, but said the city is looking for ways to give them more “teeth” in this case.
Grant Park Neighborhood Association co-chair Geoff Hyde later told the Star that he is not happy with the direction of the changes. “This would make the Parks Bureau the judge and jury,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘If you have concerns, tell us and we’ll decide how they should be addressed, and if that isn’t good enough we’ll negotiate a Good Neighbor Agreement with you.” In contrast, a conditional use makes the bureau accountable to rules drafted by a disinterested third party, he said.