Developer Ricardo Berdichevsky and architect Alberto Rinkevich might be forgiven for being confused about public reaction to their proposed Hazelwood Plaza development. They made conscious efforts to appease their neighbors immediately to the east, but still received a hostile reaction from them. After one session before the Portland Design Commission, they made adjustments to meet the concerns expressed, only to be told the commission liked the earlier scheme better.

Hazelwood Plaza, at 222 N.E. 102nd Ave., as currently planned, would have 59 residential units. It would be five stories tall on the west side, and four stories tall on the east side. It would have 52 parking spaces; two-thirds of them “tucked under” the building, the rest in the open at the rear. There is a 13-foot setback between the building and the rear property line, a conscious effort to soften its effect its neighbors.

This architect’s rendering, generated after the meeting reported in this story, is the newest design for Hazelwood Plaza, a 59-unit development proposed for N.E. 102nd Avenue in Gateway.

At a previous design advisory discussion with the commission, its members told the developers their color scheme was too garish. They also did not feel the plans met city standards for “ground floor activity,” which is most often achieved by providing ground floor retail space where the code allows it.

At their second session last month, the developers showed renderings in which most color was removed, and the buildings were predominantly gray. They had moved a fitness center and community room, previously located on upper floors, to the ground; they had added a piazza, and they had designated two ground floor units “live-work” space.

The developers continued to seek code modifications. To make up for their large rear setback, they want the front setback reduced from a required 25 feet to 13. They also want the parking lot’s interior landscaping reduced from 1300 square feet to 200; they argue that for the portion underground no landscaping should be required anyway.

Commission member Jeff Simpson said he liked the old color scheme better. “The first go-around was more exciting,” he said. “This seems more dumbed-down.”

Commission member Jane Hanson said, “It seems more like an educational facility than a residence.”

Commission member David Keltner and chair Gwen Millius said they thought the original reaction to the color was that it should be calmed down, not eliminated. “I think the first time the comments were, ‘Pick one color to take out,’ ” Millius said.

Millius liked the idea of providing for ground floor commercial activity, but was not sure that simply calling two units “live-work” accomplished this. ” ‘Live-work’ space usually has a separation between the work and living area,” she said. “I’m not sure this qualifies.”

Regarding the code modifications, Keltner said, “If you’re taking the approach of maxing out the site (in terms of lot coverage), you need to minimize the number of code modifications you ask for and go with the letter of the law. In this zone you’re required to provide a certain amount of open space.” [Planner Chris Caruso disputed this, saying there was no requirement for open space per se. For that matter, she said, there was no off-street parking requirement, and no required rear setback.]

If the commission’s comments were less than adulatory, they were mild compared to those the developers received at a special meeting of the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association. Several neighbors living on 103rd Avenue attended, and four later wrote letters of complaint to Caruso.

One of these, Joe Rinella, has complained before about the zoning pattern and the development it has produced. In this case, he complained that the planned parking would ensure that car exhaust is directed eastward toward the 103rd residences.

While the plans call for a 13-foot setback for the building, Rinella said, the parking would be only four feet from the property line. “Will barbecues be allowed on each of the balconies so that the backyards of the neighbors become unbearable with smoke?” he added.

Rinella complained that the developers came 45 minutes late to the meeting, and that they met objections by pointing out that the code would allow the building to be taller, with no off-street parking. Quoting from the November Memo “Five-story apartment building for 102nd Avenue proposed“, he complained that Berdichevsky was planning to rent only to “poor” people instead of “a good mix of low, medium and moderate income families.”

[Berdichevsky later told the Memo that he would gear rents to the expected market in Hazelwood, but not place income restrictions on tenants. He and Rinkevich were late due to a traffic tie-up, he said. In addition, it was a city official at the meeting, not the developers, who said the building could be less neighbor-friendly than it is.]

Another neighbor, Barbara Robertson, wrote, “This massive apartment building does not mimic a successful family-oriented community. There is no green space, no open space for children to play or adults to socialize. There is an opportunity here for the City of Portland to ‘walk the talk.’ You maintain you are listening to the community. You want what is best for the neighborhoods. The residents are speaking and they are saying this proposed housing development is not a good fit.”

According to several witnesses, Robertson went up to Berdichevsky and declared, “You are not going to build this building!”

The commission seemed divided on several points, including whether corrugated metal is a desirable exterior material, and whether the front setback and parking landscaping modifications were acceptable.

“We’re trying not to contradict ourselves too much,” Millius said. “We’re trying to have progress from meeting to meeting.”

Caruso said, “The front fa├žade is a great improvement. I think I can work with this applicant so that they don’t have to come back for a third advisory.”

Keltner added, “We can’t guarantee approval, but we want this to happen for you, we really do.”