Irvington seeks Benson Bubbler for Broadway
The Irvington Community Association last month voted to allocate $9,000 to install a Benson Bubbler public drinking fountain on the northwest corner of Northeast Broadway at 15th Avenue. The request reflects a long-sought push by some ICA board members that the funds received from the neighborhood’s annual Historic Home Tour, so far used primarily to fund its own activities and a Charitable Giving program offering small grants to local non-profits, also be allocated for public improvements. Board member Nikki Johnston said that the proposed site is the most heavily visited corner in the neighborhood.
Benson Bubblers, drinking fountains with four bronze bowls, were introduced to Portland by lumber tycoon Simon Benson, who donated $10,000 for the city to install 20 fountains so that his workers could have something other than alcohol to drink. Portland currently operates 52 such fountains. It also has another 74 with a single bowl design, which cost $5,000. The ICA board suggested they might go for the single bowl design if the traditional model encounters logistical issues.
Historic review changes get mixed review
The Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has drafted a series of proposed changes to city historic review processes. However, some of the principal advocates for change aren’t happy with the result.
In the city’s National Historic Districts such as Irvington, any work on the exterior of structures other than normal repair and maintenance must go through a design review process. (Madeleine Parish’s lights, above, are a case in point.) Critics, including the advocates for the districts, have complained that the fees for this process (starting at $900) and the time involved are an unreasonable burden; advocates say they could interfere with the creation of new districts. Last year the Portland City Council directed staff to look at changes. The result is the draft Historic Resources Code Improvement Project.
The draft proposes to exempt some work from review, including the installation of storm windows, handicapped access ramps, fire escapes, skylights, and any work on a part of the house that involves 150 square feet or less and is “not street-facing” on a structure that is “non-contributing” to the district. For other work, including changes that total 150 square feet or less, and “restoration” work that makes the structure more like it originally was, the review will be a Type I process. This takes a maximum of 45 days, is conducted by a city staff person and can only be appealed to the Land Use Board of Appeals, a complex and costly process. Currently, most historic reviews are Type II, which take longer and give those unhappy with the outcome the option of an appeal to the Historic Landmarks Commission. (Neighborhood associations can do this for free.) Finally, there are changes to the definitions of “maintenance” and “repair.”
Dean Gisvold, the Irvington Community Association’s land use chair, is unhappy with these changes. He objects to the use of the Type I process and lack of local appeal possibilities. “We haven’t abused the appeal process,” he told the Star. “We’ve reviewed 100 cases and only appealed three.” He also thinks that the exemption for “street-facing” work should specify that the work can’t be seen from the street. Finally, he calls for better definitions of “maintenance” and “repair.”
At a public hearing before the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission, all who testified agreed on the need for changes in the current procedure and expressed disappointment at items left out of the recommendations, but not the same ones. There was a universal call for better public notification and education of the requirements of historic review, and a lowering of fees. Staff noted that the fees are set by the Bureau of Development Services, and they have no direct control over them.
Harris Matarazzo of the Portland Landmarks Commission said that currently historic review is “an expensive, confusing and time-consuming process. Often the fees exceed the cost of the actual improvements. This potentially jeopardizes the formation of other districts.” The amendments “could provide for speedier and less expensive reviews. We’re committed to guidance to help homeowners understand the code provisions.” He shared Gisvold’s concerns about loss of appeal rights and questioned some of the exemptions, but said, “You couldn’t address all concerns with an eight month timeline and no real budget.”
John Hassenberg of the Oregon Remodelers Association said, “We’re supportive of the changes; it was something that needed to happen.” When the Irvington district was created, “Many owners were blind-sided, didn’t know what they were buying into, and many projects were put on the shelf.” In addition to fees, those seeking historic review need expensive professional help, he said.
Irvington resident Kathy Potter said that when she heard about the Irvington district, “We assumed that it would protect the neighborhood. We didn’t think it would place a burden on existing homeowners.” However, she also questioned some of the proposed exemptions, including the one for storm windows, and said that letting off work on non-street-facing facades “is apt to create a multitude of problems.” She concluded, “Having realtors and contractors aware of these rules is critical.”
Jim Brown of Alameda repeated his oft-stated criticism of how the Irvington district was created. He said the city should “require a process to inform homeowners of a (proposed) district and its effect on their property rights, and the cost should be bourn by the entity proposing the district, not the city.”
David Sweet of Sabin called for an exemption for solar panels. To this Planning and Sustainability Executive Director Susan Anderson said, “It’s not cheap, and not the cheapest way to carbon footprint reduction, but something people want to do. I’m annoyed with people who do this who haven’t done other energy conservation measures. It’s for show.”
The Commission approved the recommendations and sent them to City Council for action.
Neighborhood seeks 60th & Hassalo safety changes
The Rose City Park Neighborhood Association Land Use and Transportation Committee voted last month to seek improvements at the Northeast 60th Avenue and Hassalo Street intersection for vehicle and pedestrian safety.
Committee member Bob Richardson, who lives on Hassalo, said that although the street is designated and designed for local use, it is frequently used by large trucks from industrial firms to the west. It is also a route to Normandale Park, part of the 50s Bikeway, and a proposed access point to the future Sullivan’s Gulch Trail. The speed of auto traffic on the street is unusually high, there are no sidewalks east of 60th, the intersection with 60th does not allow motorists to see cross traffic without venturing into it, and trucks that make turning movements block the street. Richardson showed videos of serious accidents on the street, one involving a truck.
He proposed that the city place marked crosswalks across 60th and Hassalo at this intersection, that they prohibit parking at the corners to aid visibility, that they install curb extensions to aid pedestrian movements, and that they paint sharros on the street to alert motorists to the presence of bicyclists. Committee member Terry Parker objected to these last two points, but the group agreed to pursue the first two.
“I’m not a NIMBY,” Richardson said. “I knew there was truck traffic on the street when I moved in. But I want it to be safe.”
42nd Avenue upgrade makes progress
The 42nd Avenue Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative is making progress. According to Steering Committee member Bob Granger and Dana DeKlyne of the Portland Development Commission, the group has raised the $15,000 they had pledged to put together and this, plus matching funds from PDC, will allow them to hire a manager for half a year.
42nd is one of six new NPI districts, including one centered on Northeast Cully Boulevard. They encompass commercial districts plus residential areas on their periphery up to two blocks away. Those that meet city requirements, including local fundraising goals, will each receive $1.2 million over the next eight to ten years, some of it from tax increment funds generated by increased property tax revenues within the district, that can be spent on business improvements, promotion of the area, and possibly one or two modest public improvements. They were selected because they were “under-performing” in terms of attracting private investment, they are parts of communities that have below-average household income and are ethnically diverse, and they have “organizing potential” in the form of active community groups.
PDC’s requirement that each group raise $30,000 to pay for a full-time manager by mid-June of last year proved formidable. Now, Deklyne says, each district has raised at least $15,000 for half a year’s worth of managerial help, and the agency is moving forward on this basis.
Meanwhile, the Steering Committee, composed of community members, is moving forward on other fronts. From 6 to 8 p.m. February 19 they will host a charrette and design party at the Portland Community College Workforce Center on Northeast 42nd Avenue and Killingsworth Street. This will give people a chance to learn about proposed activities and give their input. “It’s taken awhile, but there are lots of good things happening,” Granger says.
PDC reviews Kenton property plans
Sara King of the Portland Development Commission last month briefed the Kenton Neighborhood Association on the agency’s property holdings and their plans for them.
In 2011 PDC purchased a group of properties in the northern part of the neighborhood from the Nelson family. One of these is a building at 2221 N. Argyle St. currently occupied by the Spartek Corporation, and King said PDC intends to keep it there.
Another holding is a 27,000-square-foot building at 8411 N. Denver Ave., which, King said currently has multiple code violations. PDC plans to implement a $500,000 program to upgrade this property, which is currently vacant. It could be used for offices, warehouses or light industrial activity. It could not be used for a restaurant, bar or “anything with a large public occupancy” without the addition of public restrooms and other costly additions, King said.
Kenton land use chair Steve Rupert said, “The Nelsons have been sitting on that property for years. We had high hopes when PDC took it over. Now we fear that you’ll sit on it.”
“No, we’re actively working to re-tenant it,” King replied. “We need to do the work first before tenanting in the spring.” In terms of long-term plans she said, “We want to be as broad and flexible as we can be.” However, she said, “We wouldn’t put a half-million dollars into it if we intended to demolish it.”
The third Nelson property is an 800-square-foot building last used as a coffee shop at 8419 N. Denver Ave. It was once a service station and has underground contamination, King said. “We thought to tear it down, but it has great ambience,” and similar buildings are in high demand on Southeast Division Street and elsewhere, she said. Also, it is listed as a neighborhood historic resource, she said.
The Kenton board didn’t share King’s feelings for the charm of the building. “I don’t think it contributes to the historic character of the neighborhood,” Rupert said. “There’s nothing cool about it.” Jesse Burke, chair of the Kenton Business Association, said she thought the historic designation was a mistake.
However, co-chair Webley Bowles said, “That location is critically important. It’s a gateway.”
Burke said the neighborhood needs housing development more than commercial at this point. “We all want more shops, but we need more housing to support them,” she said. “We have barely enough residents to support the businesses we have now.”
Kenton Quiet Zone makes progress
Kenton resident Dan Fox is making some progress in securing Quiet Zone designations for three North Portland intersections.
As reported in the December Star, Fox found that such designations give train engineers discretion to blow their horns less frequently. Designations are based on Risk Threshold, which takes into account vehicular and pedestrian traffic volumes and visibility, among other things. He did research and made a case for the designation of crossings on North Columbia Boulevard at Tindal, Peninsula and Chatauqua avenues. He hit a snag, however, when he found that a request for a zone must come from a local government jurisdiction – in this case the City of Portland – and the Bureau of Transportation declared it didn’t have the time or resources to pursue the matter.
Since then, Fox says, things have looked up a bit. He had a meeting and toured the sites with traffic planners Dan Layden and Rich Newlands. While not promising immediate action – in some cases pedestrian barriers may be warranted – Newlands indicated that the project is at least possible.
Comprehensive Plan workshops due
The Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability will be holding a series of workshops to provide input on the proposed Portland Comprehensive Plan. These will include sessions from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. February 26 at De La Salle North High School, 7528 N. Fenwick Ave.; 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. February 28 at Franklin High School, 5405 S.E. Woodward St.; 5 to 8 p.m. March 5 at Portland State University’s Smith Center, 1825 S.W. Broadway; and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 9 at Beaumont Middle School, 4043 N.E. Fremont St.
The proposed Plan, updating a document adopted in 1980, will set regulations, including zoning, governing public activities and private development through the year 2035. Among other things, the workshops will take public input on a series of Growth Scenarios devised by staff guiding where increased growth and density should be directed. A Default Scenario would keep regulations pretty much as they are. Other choices call for concentrating growth in commercial nodes such as Hollywood, along transit corridors such as Northeast Broadway and Sandy Boulevard, or in the Central City, including the Lloyd District.
For more information, or to get a copy of the draft plan, visit portlandoregon.gov/bps/pdxcompplan.