Last month, developer Chet Antonsen broke ground for his Castlegate Apartment Homes in Argay Terrace on 2.9 acres of what was a former strawberry field. A 55-unit complex of two- and three-bedroom apartments, the seven three-story buildings will be arrayed from Northeast 145th to 148th avenues between Northeast Rose Parkway and Morris Court. Six of the seven buildings will have eight units; one will have seven. When they become available, despite having to drive nearly two miles through the neighborhood to get there, the market-rate apartments are expected to rent quickly due to Portland’s paucity of housing stock.
With all the delays and money he’s already lost, Antonsen is tickled to get the project going after nearly four years of back and forth with the city and neighborhood association (though mostly the city). “I’m very happy to get this going,” Antonsen said. “I lost my 1031 advantage with taxes [a 1031 land exchange allows an investor to sell a property, reinvest the proceeds in a new property and defer all capital gain taxes]. That cost me. I can’t even tell you how much. I’ve had the loan closed for a year on this thing, so I’ve paid interest on it for a year.”
Antonsen’s first plan, rejected by the city—and never presented to neighbors—was for a development of single-family homes. However, had a single-family tiny lot subdivision been created, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) would have required Antonsen to build fully developed extensions of not only Northeast Rose Parkway but also Morris Court connecting to Northeast 148th Avenue. This would have the unexpected outcome of funneling bypass rush-hour traffic through the neighborhood when Sandy Boulevard gets congested, which is every weekday afternoon.
Antonsen presented his second development plan to more than 150 mostly angry neighbors at a contentious meeting in November 2013.
Neighbors were shocked to have their worst fears confirmed by Antonsen: the farm next to their homes was going to be developed, spoiling views and opening dead-end streets. It was a nightmare for Antonsen as they mercilessly heckled him (“Argay angry over farmland development” MCM January 2014). He never presented at a general meeting again, choosing instead to meet with neighborhood leaders in smaller sessions. To this day, Antonsen thinks the plan presented that night was the best chance to mitigate his development’s impacts on the neighborhood (two buildings of 24 units each, retaining the family farmhouse and building a duplex at the far end of the development). Sure, he would have needed neighborhood backing to get a zone change for this plan, but it mitigated as much as possible neighbors in many condominiums next door from losing their mountain views.
Realizing their capabilities were limited to organizing a movie night in the park or a neighborhood cleanup but not thorny land-use issues, many Argay Terrace Neighborhood Association (ATNA) board members resigned after that November 2013 meeting. After a May 2014 meeting where incorrect information was disseminated to more than 200 people in attendance, all but one resigned (“Development roils Argay Terrace” MCM July 2014). No city representatives attended either meeting.
After recovering from the initial shock that the site would not remain a farm forever or become an extension of the existing neighborhood pattern, a reconstituted and capable group volunteered for the board, with a realtor and property appraiser as its new land-use chair. They quickly acknowledged that the developer has a perfect right to develop the site to its maximum zoned density and then settled down to work with Antonsen on the development’s access. hopefully designing a plan to minimize its impact.
PBOT declared a direct connection to Northeast 148th—one of only five north-south arterial streets in east Portland—to be unsafe, even though two streets in the Wilkes neighborhood entering Northeast 148th opposite the development were deemed safe by PBOT’s own staff. Repeated appeals, including two face-to-face meetings with PBOT’s director, failed to gain an open review of this conflicted decision.
“I share the valid concern of many that the additional traffic from Castlegate will decrease the safety of Argay Terrace. Still, this is the safer of the two possible outcomes,” said Al Brown, who was, until a few months ago when he moved out of the neighborhood, ATNA’s land-use chair. In addition to Castlegate, Brown worked on other land-use issues, including the recently passed 2035 Comprehensive Plan. “My experiences with planning staff and building staff, and especially those who worked on the Comprehensive Plan, were professional and impressive—worthy of the Portland I grew up in,” Brown said. Despite this good experience, other bureaucrats’ repellent rectitude over access to Castlegate ended his long-term love affair with Portland. “Twenty-six years ago, I bought my second home in Argay Terrace, a good-quality home on a large corner lot, with a great view—the home I intended to retire in. But the actions of PBOT, the ombudsman, the auditor’s office and the mayor’s office led this multi-generation resident of Portland to decide that I did not want to trust my future life to those running the city of Portland. That is why I sold and moved.” He added, “Argay Terrace is a great neighborhood with great people, and I wish them the best.”
ATNA Chair Doug Cook said, “After a four-year struggle with the city of Portland and PBOT over Castlegate traffic, ATNA has resigned itself to the fact that the outcome is not the one our community desired.” He added, “We continue to be concerned about the traffic issues connected to the Castlegate development. We believe the city’s decision was shortsighted and shortchanged the livability of Argay Terrace. Solutions that would make 148th Avenue a safe entry and exit to and from Castlegate were presented and dismissed. Very disappointing.” The Castlegate development is one agenda item the Argay Terrace Neighborhood Association is set to discuss when it convenes its general meeting, Tuesday, Oct. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at Portland Fire & Rescue’s Station No. 2, 4800 N.E. 122nd Ave.