Northeast/Southeast 82nd Avenue, ever the troublemaker, may have its parents to blame. The 9.6-mile stretch of highway is seen by one city group, the 82nd Avenue Improvement Coalition, as being at a severe structural disadvantage: it’s owned by the state. Control and key decision-making are the products of ongoing negotiations between Oregon and the city of Portland.
The Coalition, according to one of its founders, Brian Wong, pursues what some might consider a mirage in the desert. The group, which is made up of only a small handful of members, wants to see Portland have full control of 82nd Avenue. It’s one of the city’s longest streets, spanning the entire east side before dipping into its southern suburbs. But while it’s under state control, the Coalition argues that development and safety are at stake.
“There are two fundamental issues behind why we think this is important,” explains Wong. “One is property development. If you wish to develop property, you need to get approval from both groups [the city and the state]. It’s a showstopper for people trying to develop their property. They get conflicting information, it’s too expensive, and the timeline is too long.”
In terms of business, 82nd Avenue has been historically dubbed “Portland’s city limits” by The Oregonian in 2015. The same article went on to mention that contemporary redevelopment in the Montavilla and Foster-Powell neighborhoods has been altering this frozen image. However, in December, The Oregonian hinted at continued complications by commenting that “east Portlanders have little access to grocery stores.” Their evidence? A Fred Meyer at Southeast 82nd Avenue and Foster Road announced it would be shutting its doors.
Wong believes the issue here is that 82nd Avenue is a highway—a road not designed for commercial business. Yet 82nd Avenue is full of businesses and patrons seeking those businesses.
Second, Wong argues that 82nd Avenue is hazardous. “It’s unsafe to walk along and to cross. Portlanders deserve streets that are safe. Logistically, we have some pedestrian islands that have no crosswalks; people are just hoping cars will see them and slow down. The State of Oregon has a design standard meant for highways, but 82nd would never be safe enough as a highway because it’s too narrow. It would need to be wider by at least 10 feet on each side to meet ODOT [Oregon Department of Trans-portation] standards.”
It’s unlikely that either Portland or Oregon would disagree with Wong’s claims that 82nd Avenue is stunted in terms of business and security. From 2015 to 2016, both Oregon and Portland launched initiatives attempting to rescue the highway.
ODOT’s 82nd Avenue of Roses Implementation Plan’s ethos has been to identify four priority areas along the street and assign safety projects that can be funded and built in the short-term (five to 10 years). The Plan is almost complete, with projects awaiting assignment by a Steering Committee this month on Jan. 22.
Meanwhile, the city has devised its own plan. As previously reported (“82nd Avenue Study looks past barriers,” MCM May 2017), it’s called the 82nd Avenue Study, sporting a longer title of 82nd Avenue: Understanding the Barriers to Development. The study is made possible by a 2040 Planning and Development Grant.
Besides uncovering a “why,” the study set out to identify a distinguished who, what and where. This includes developing potential and barriers in focus areas, recommending actions and phasing for promoting development and identifying opportunity sites.
“It’s a project to understand what are the current barriers to development in the corridor. Generally, it is the ‘market’—it hasn’t quite arrived yet like it has in inner Portland. Our real estate market consultants found that the prevailing rents aren’t there yet to generate much new development,” says Radcliffe Dacanay of the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.
The study concluded that a sizable crop of 82nd Avenue business owners can’t develop along 82nd because they simply lack the capital. The majority fall under the “mom-and-pop” umbrella.
82nd Avenue is also quite literally a bumpy road. It needs to be both updated and repaved. As Wong remarked, 82nd Avenue is not forgiving to walkers, and it’s also not generous to bikes.
Ask Dacanay, and he’ll tell you that the immediate future of road improvements is still car-centered. “New development that pencils out would likely still be auto-oriented development. That is already the prevailing development type/development pattern on the corridor, given that existing pattern and limited available capital.”
Existing buildings are more likely to be refurbished than new, but “that could change over the next five years,” according to Dacanay. “We will continue to monitor the market and anticipate any development boom. It doesn’t mean new can’t be built; it just means it is more of a challenge financially to do so.”
For now, the Jade District and Montavilla are the study’s two most prominent “opportunity sites.” Lents and Madison South are “key emerging” opportunity areas.
According to a city-released document comparing the two plans (ODOT’s Implementation plan and the city’s study), the study is open to “urban design concepts” that can “complement ODOT projects for better connectivity.” On the surface, this suggests the city isn’t as interested in, or at all pursuing, a transfer of ownership. But this isn’t the whole story.
“I wouldn’t say ODOT itself is a barrier to development,” says Dacanay. “They do own the street. 82nd Avenue is Highway 213. That said, the multiplicity of agencies governing what can be done relative to the street has been described as a challenge among some property owners we talked to.”
Dacanay is referencing, at least in part, the 82nd Avenue Improvement Coalition itself, which the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability continues to actively work alongside. Though the notion of 82nd falling into sole city custody seems less likely than Portland relocating to a desert, it’s not so crazy.
“We’ve worked closely with the 82nd Ave Improvement Coalition. They strongly support a jurisdictional transfer of 82nd Avenue from ODOT to the city of Portland,” explains Dacanay. “It’s not a pipe dream. It is an ongoing conversation, a negotiation really, between ODOT and the city of Portland. How soon might it happen? I don’t know. It likely wouldn’t happen next year. ODOT and the city have to figure out what it means financially to transfer ownership. This project looks to recommend some possible steps to help accelerate that negotiation.”
For Wong, a telltale depiction of the problem revolves around an earlier initiative to apply art to utility boxes. “That was the turning point. It seemed like a simple enough project, and we had received a grant, but we got shut down by ODOT. They told us we can’t paint anything beyond gray. That was the dealbreaker; you can’t even get art on this road.”
The final component of the 82nd Avenue Study, entitled “Hearings and Adoption,” was slated for completion last fall. Its last stage has been delayed, like the 82nd Avenue of Roses Implementation Plan. “Hearing and adoption have been postponed to this spring,” says Dacanay. “We are coordinating with ODOT’s own planning process for the street. We’ve also been coordinating with the Division Transit project because it goes through the heart of the Jade District. That said, the overlap with these projects has pushed the public hearings and any adoption of recommended actions to spring, maybe early summer 2018.”