Entering its fourth year, a dispute between the Argay Terrace Neighborhood Association (ATNA) and Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) over access to a new apartment development is due to a senior PBOT staffer’s dislike of not only the developer but also the Argay Terrace neighborhood, the Memo has found.
Citing safety reasons, Kurt Krueger, PBOT’s development review division manager, has decided against allowing access to Northeast 148th Avenue for the Castlegate Apartment Homes, a new 55-unit market-rate apartment development along 148th at Rose Parkway on the eastern boundary of the neighborhood.
Rather, Krueger—over the neighborhood association’s vehement objections and without any study of the impact to neighborhood safety—has ordered Chet Antonsen, Castlegate’s developer, to turn Rose Parkway, the longtime dead-end street at the west end of the development, into a cul-de-sac at Antonsen’s expense.
Krueger’s decision funnels all apartment traffic about a mile over neighborhood surface streets before reaching arterials like Northeast 122nd Avenue or Sandy Boulevard to exit the neighborhood, as Argay Terrace has no through streets.
However, Al Brown, real estate broker and ATNA’s land use and transportation chair, believe the group did their homework using PBOT’s own rules, protocols and a report done by PBOT’s own staff engineer, which shows intersections opposite the apartment site fully meet PBOT safety standards. This safety report alone supports why access for Castlegate should be at 148th Avenue, trumping Krueger’s decision, which neighbors have always said is wrong.
Pain in the rear
Moreover, after a private meeting last summer with Krueger, his boss, PBOT Director Leah Treat, her boss, Commissioner Steve Novick, and ATNA board members, neighbors think Krueger’s decision seems motivated by a personal animus toward the developer.
According to several ATNA board members who were at the meeting, Krueger told those assembled that for more than a decade, developer Antonsen and his attorney have been a pain in his rear.
In part, Krueger’s admission is stunning because he did it not only in front of his boss and his boss’ boss, but also because it brings into question the real reason for Krueger’s decision, which neighbors suspect could be part of a personal vendetta.
Furthermore, PBOT staff, the director and the commissioner never refuted the facts of Brown’s research and argument, only that the decision was made and the matter is closed to further review and examination. In other words, short of legal action, there is no way neighbors can to force PBOT to do so. Unlike other city bureaus, PBOT has no appeals process—Krueger’s decision is irrevocable, just on the say-so of its director.
Treat, who admits she has no engineering background, says she must rely on her technical staff to make the call on these types of decisions.
Krueger’s decision requires Antonsen to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars creating access to his development by opening Rose Parkway, which property Antonsen is then required to cede to the city.
Like Treat, we’re not traffic engineers; to the untrained eye, opening 148th Avenue to the new apartment complex seems to make the most sense, especially since to the east, two city streets officially declared safe by PBOT (Rose Parkway and Northeast 148th Place), which serve more than 200 households, already connect to that street at that location.
When the Memo examined PBOT’s decision closely, we found that Krueger’s decision to keep 148th closed is based on an outside traffic engineer’s report that uses a sight and stopping distance measurement PBOT does not regularly employ.
Furthermore, when a PBOT traffic engineer not under Krueger’s auspices studied the two city street intersections which enter Northeast 148th opposite the apartment site using standards PBOT regularly applies, he deemed the location safe.
Statements from PBOT’s media relations department defending the decision have been found not to be based on fact. Most recently, a claim that the city auditor had supported the process was proven false. A review by the “city traffic engineer” that showed the decision to be “safer” was a short memo by the manager of PBOT’s traffic design department that stated, based on the very small amount of data provided, connection to the adjacent arterial street was unsafe.
However, there was no mention was made of the fact that two city streets serving 200 households already connect to that street at that location, and the reviewer’s statement should mean those two streets should also be declared unsafe.
No mention was made of any safety study of the route PBOT chose (Krueger has stated none were required), nor was there mention of a review of all the information provided by Brown. In addition, the ATNA was never notified that the review was underway and was never given the opportunity to provide input.
Refusing two requests to provide a copy of the report, PBOT forced the ATNA to file a formal Public Records Request to receive a copy of the “City Traffic Engineer” memo.
Brown says PBOT’s repeated refusals to both explain its decision-making process to neighbors or examine opposing arguments and data have convinced them that PBOT’s decision is not based on accurate data, and in fact it may be hazardous to neighborhood residents.
While the only thing Argay Terrace neighbors have asked Krueger to do is follow his own rules and allow them to keep the same neighborhood they chose to live in, it looks like Krueger has won his battle with the neighborhood and developer, as Antonsen is about ready to break ground this spring.
What’s Krueger got against Argay Terrace?
Three years ago, when Krueger’s initial decision to open at least one dead-end street to the new development instead of 148th Avenue was made, hundreds of neighbors were incensed.
A call-to-action notice was subsequently created by the neighborhood association asking people to contact PBOT staff and elected officials asking them to keep the dead-end streets closed.
It included Krueger’s contact information, along with that of his bosses, every city commissioner and the mayor. It was distributed door to door to the 1,500 homes in the neighborhood. A barrage of phone calls, emails and letters in opposition to Krueger’s decision, hit City Hall and PBOT officials making Krueger’s professional life uncomfortable and annoying.
When Krueger pleaded with neighborhood leaders to have the messages stopped after he, his bosses and city commissioners were shredded by dozens of angry calls and emails for several days, the neighborhood association immediately ceased circulating the notice and asked residents not to contact Krueger directly.
What’s the next question?
The next question is whether the citizens of Portland lost and just how many times, over how many years, have decisions been made this way—not only at PBOT but at all city bureaus. Is this consistent with the careful and thorough decision making process, considering the input of all “stakeholders,” which PBOT says is its goal in its Vision Zero plan?
Castlegate is only one closely examined example of how PBOT operates and why there appears to be much work needed before it can assume its role as outlined in Vision Zero.
Argay Terrace is a nearly 60-year-old neighborhood of more than 6,000 residents and about 1,500 single-family homes in outer Northeast Portland between I-84 and Sandy Boulevard, and from Northeast 122nd to 148th avenues. It mixes some market-rate apartments with larger, better-quality single-family homes on bigger lots than homes west of 82nd Avenue. Developed with broad winding streets, only three major intersections connect it to Portland’s street system. No traffic passes directly through the neighborhood from outside its boundaries. Low-traffic streets are the one feature mentioned most by residents as a reason for moving to Argay Terrace.
Archive of Memo articles about Castlegate
January 2014 “Argay Angry over farmland’s development”
July 2014 “Development roils neighborhood”
November 2014 “Argay Terrace neighbors, developer approach rapprochement with developer”
February 2015 “City snags development plan”
March 2015 “City wants development split—maybe”
Mid-county Memo blog
October 2015 “Argay still angry over farmland development”
January 2016 “Castlegate Apartments approved”
February 2016 “Apartment complex density now the issue”