When the Portland Sustainability Commission held four public hearings this fall to gather feedback about the city’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan draft, east Portland neighbors showed up in force to voice their complaints and recommendations. They especially packed the Oct. 14 meeting, held at Parkrose High School Community Center.
Nick Sauvie, director of the Rose Community Development Corporation, said over the past 30 years, east Portland has suffered from several poor planning decisions, including “packing the Burnside east side transit corridor with high density zoning without corresponding commercial land uses.”
East Portland’s livability is the lowest in the city, and the new Comp Plan “is a chance to fix this planning,” he said. Sauvie said he is pleased the new plan acknowledges the public investment deficit in east Portland and recommends investing in substandard neighborhoods. He recommended that east Portland attain parity with other parts of the city in public facilities and capitol improvements and prioritize projects in Mid-county.
However, he does not want financial improvements to “come at the cost of displacement of long-time residents, communities of color and low income people.” Such “gentrification-fueled displacement has already begun,” he said, adding that the city should act now before it is too late.
He said the Comprehensive Plan should act more forcibly about housing affordability. “Today nearly three out of four Portland renters earning $50,000 a year or less pay more than they can afford for rent,” he said. “We understand the rationale behind down-zoning some neighborhoods but recognize that down-zoning residential is going to increase the upward price pressure on housing.” He concluded by asking the city take steps to increase the supply of both subsidized and non-subsidized affordable housing.
Joe Rossi talked about the large parcel of undeveloped farmland between Northeast 122nd Avenue and Shaver Elementary School on 131st Place his family owns. Currently, it’s zoned commercial, mixed employment, and R-3 apartment, but the new Comp Plan switches it to light industrial. This zoning would be a disservice to the community, Rossi told commissioners. “We all talk about walking communities and having density and walking to stores and having families not having to have a second car or not even a first car. We have that opportunity here. I understand the goal is to have jobs and to develop properties where there’s high paying jobs but to do it, it would become an island of light industrial around, really, all residential.” Rossi asserted such development would negatively affect the neighborhood. “If it does get developed, I want it to be something really, really nice for our community,” Rossi said. “It would be a nice legacy for my father and grandfather.”
Bruce Campbell was also concerned about an influx of industrial development. He charged that the Comp Plan contradicts itself since its goals section advocates for policies to stop climate change by protecting the natural green spaces, yet promotes more industrial development, wiping out large natural areas and animal habitats in and around the Columbia Slough where Campbell lives. “It’s like throw in a couple of bioswales and bike paths, and then we can do anything we want and still stop climate change,” he said. “It just did not seem to have a good logic to it. We can’t do both things.” He suggested instead of bringing industry to the slough, and “desecrating the land which is rich with animals and plants,” the city could protect it as a green space, adding community farms and protecting habitats for animals, all practices in line with fighting climate change.
David Douglas School District Superintendent Don Grotting testified there is a need to significantly reduce or eliminate any more high-density housing in the David Douglas School District. He said with more than 10,000 students, the district is larger than it has ever been. High school classrooms packed with 40 students. “We have no more classrooms,” he said. “We have no more infrastructure to support any more students. As a community, we do not have food outlets, grocery outlets that support our children and families of color and poverty. We are at capacity. We can take no more students.”
When PSC chair Andre Baugh asked Grotting if he was only concerned about large high-density dwellings or also about studios and one-bedroom apartments, Grotting replied, “We don’t want any more of any type that would bring in more children to the district.” He pointed out many children in the district live with grandparents who might have started out living in a childfree complex but end up moving in grandchildren.
Frieda Christopher, chair of the DDSD school board, recommended the city strengthen language in the new plan to coordinate with school districts regarding growth. “We’d like greater communication with school districts on the impact of zone change and consideration of additional capacity at David Douglas,” she said. “We’re talking about reallocating, taking them out of David Douglas where we don’t have capacity and putting the higher densities in school districts that have excess capacity.” Christopher also expressed concern about displacement and how to create a balance. She said it takes a lot of land to build a school, “and we certainly don’t want to take imminent domain and displace a family just to build a school.”
Janet Linstead, an assistant teacher at DDSD, who also lives in the district at East Burnside and 139th Avenue, echoed the cry for more down-zoning in the neighborhood. She said the Comp Plan proposes to place a large mixed-use building next to her that would be three stories high. People in her area won‘t be able to shop there, she said. “They can’t afford the little boutiques you want to put right next to my property,” she said. Many businesses have already left the area around David Douglas schools, she said. “People with not a lot of money came in, and the retailers moved out,” she said. “If you want to make jobs for our community, get some big guys in there. You’re going to need to do stores that have big bins, like WinCo, where people in our neighborhood can afford it. They can’t afford Trader Joe’s. This high residential area you want to put next to my house, there‘s no jobs for them, there’s no grocery stores to shop at.” She suggested developing the Menlo Park area at Northeast Glisan Street and locating stores there with goods residents can afford.
Willy Myers of the Columbia Pacific Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents 15,000 skilled trade workers, urged commissioners to preserve and expand industrial land in the city and adopt plans to create more “good middle-class jobs.”
Cristina Palacias of the Community Alliance of Tenants, advocated for the rights of renters. She suggested renters and non-English speakers should be approached where they live “so we can hear them. When we talk about plans, many low-income people think about substandard buildings, bringing them to code, and fix and providing affordable housing.” She also recommended a cap on rents because increased rents result in displacement of people. “With Section 8 vouchers, some landlords are making sure costs are just high enough so people can’t access buildings so these people can’t live there,” she said. Bullying is another problem. Some neighbors call in, complain and harass other neighbors, so they want to move out. “We need to make sure people aren’t getting pushed out,” Palacias said.
Cassie Cohen of Groundwork Portland, an organization that works with government, business and communities to transform Brownfield sites into community assets, spoke about planners’ vision of a future town center at the site of Southeast 122nd Avenue and Division Street. Cohen said that intersection contains a Brownfield site and that “there’s been some indication that potentially a fast food drive-through might be located at that site.” Over the past year, her organization has talked with neighbors, as well as David Douglas High School students, and determined they would prefer another type of business at that corner, something the community would be proud of. “This is not their vision for having yet another fast food drive-through in a 20-block radius where there are already many others,” she said. She suggested Comp Plan designers create some pilot projects and take early actions to “give the community some hope.” In the spirit of giving east Portland parity with the rest of the area, this possible town center should be created in conjunction with the transit system projects being planned along Southeast Powell and Division streets, she said. Rather than a fast food restaurant, Cohen hoped the community might locate “maybe an anchor, maybe a tenant or multiple tenants within that one Brownfield site that they can really honor and feel proud of,” she said.
The PSC has scheduled several Comp Plan work sessions in the coming months, during which time commissioners take only written testimony. Those sessions are Jan. 13 and 27 and Feb. 10. There will be a public hearing on the financially constrained Transportation System Plan and its relationship to the Comp Plan on Feb. 24. A work session on the TSP is March 10, allowing written comments only.
All meetings are open to the public and held at Planning and Sustainability offices, 1900 S.W. 4th Ave., Suite 2500A, Portland.
The deadline for written comments from the public is March 13, 2015.
Documents related to the 2035 Comp Plan are posted on the PSC website: www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/41664 – by date. Check the website for upcoming meeting times, or call Eden Dabbs at 503-823-9908 with questions or more for more information about the 2035 Comprehensive Plan.