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Comprehensive Plan workshop draws crowd


Spencer Williams, Bureau of Planning and Sustainability associate planner answers southeast Portland resident Jennifer Thompson's question during the Portland Comprehensive workshop held last month at David Douglas High School.
Mid-county Memo photo/Tim E. Curran
The Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability held a series of workshops on the proposed Portland Comprehensive Plan in February and March, and one of the largest and most spirited was a session March 2 at David Douglas High School. About 50 people attended, according to city staff.

The proposed plan would update a document adopted in 1980. It would set regulations for public action and private development, including zoning, through the year 2035.

There was particularly lively discussion at a session on proposed Growth Scenarios. According to planner Spencer Williams, the city is looking at how it should absorb the 135,000 additional people expected to live here in 2035. There is more than enough “capacity” under existing zoning to provide all the new housing development needed, but the city is considering where that development should ideally go.

The so-called “default” scenario would simply keep things as they are. “If east Portland has provided one-third of the new development in the last ten years, you could expect it to provide one-third in the next twenty,” Williams said. Another scenario would concentrate growth in and near commercial “nodes” such as Gateway. Yet another would place growth along “transit corridors” such as Northeast Sandy Boulevard or 122nd Avenue. A fourth would concentrate nearly all growth in the central city.

Asked how growth would be directed to the desired locations, Williams said this is likely to be done not by zoning, but by tools such as tax abatement and other advantages to developers.

These scenarios will be judged, in part, by how well they accomplish certain goals contained in last year's Portland Plan. Among these are goals to have 80 percent of residents live within walking distance of frequent transit and complete neighborhoods that contain stores, parks and other amenities. Currently less than half of residents enjoy these advantages, Williams said, and none of the scenarios, by themselves, is likely to bring the city close to the Portland Plan goals. One of the tools used, he said, will be the strategic use of public investments in infrastructure such as roads and sidewalks.

Several people at the workshop offered goals of their own. Longtime Hazelwood neighborhood and parks advocate Linda Robinson said that for too long east Portland has experienced “growth without proper infrastructure. We want things built so that people will want to live here.”

Katie Larsell, longtime Argay and Parkrose School District advocate, said, “We want good growth, not gentrified growth.” Several young people who said they belonged to an organization called Blazing Arrow also voiced concern about gentrification.

Likewise, David Douglas School District and Gateway Regional Center urban renewal volunteer Frieda Christopher said, “I want to make this a more livable community, but not by displacing anyone. We need affordable housing without displacing anyone.”

Cora Lee Potter, Lents and streetcar activist, said her agenda included “ensuring that people who don't have the assets enjoyed by other parts of town can develop assets here.” Regarding gentrification, she said that some studies of the issue were improperly done, and as a result, some people got lost in the statistics.

Larsell said that some of the performance measures were clear while others - including gentrification and complete neighborhoods - were less so. Addressing this last, Williams offered, “Some places have lots of housing, but not the services to serve them. Gateway has a lot of transportation options, but not always ways to get to them.”

Karen Fischer Gray, Parkrose School District Superintendent and bureau of Planning and Sustainability Commission member, asked how the Comprehensive Plan indicates where to put new infrastructure and services. Principal Planner Eric Engstrom replied, “We have each bureau tracking expenditures with regard to the goals of the Portland Plan. In east Portland there is a “big gap, especially with regard to transportation,” The City will develop a financial plan to meet the deficiencies. “That doesn't mean we're going to suddenly find a pot of money, but we'll be tracking it,” he said.

Larsell asked, “How often are these performance measures updated?” Snapping her fingers, she said, “Gentrification can happen like that! All of us have been involved in past projects, and seen them fade away over time.”

Williams replied, “Community involvement will continue to shape and push what we do. We can't meet our goals without addressing the existing performance gaps.”

A TriMet representative at the workshop said that although his agency is independent from city government, it is committed to working with Portland to provide service to designated transit corridors. Engstrom said it would help to know which bus line would best be upgraded in order to provide the most people with “access to frequent transit.”

Former state representative and mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith visited the workshop and made several statements about the process. “We're not the Pearl District, and we don't want to be,” he said. “There need to be places for poor people to live that are also nice.” Much of Mid-county lacks a sense of identity. “There's no 'there' there,” Smith said.

Christopher and others have complained about the sheer quantity of low-income housing built in outer east Portland in recent years. At the workshop she said, “We have to track poverty and the pressures it puts on schools. I've read the Plan's housing goals, and everything in them is contrary to the housing office's actions.”

In a related matter, Planning and Sustainability staff last month gave a briefing to the Portland Design Commission on the draft plan. Planner Tom Armstrong said his bureau continues to take public input on the draft through May 1. In the summer they will issue a new draft, this with proposed zoning, commercial centers, transit corridors and plans for new infrastructure.

Planner Bill Cunningham said that in future design review proceedings, the city would try to move away from a “one size fits all” approach. Currently, when new development is subject to design review in Portland, it is judged by the Community Design Standards developed during the 1990s as part of the Albina Community Plan process for inner north and northeast Portland, Cunningham said, and reflects the architecture of that area.

Mid-Multnomah County neighborhoods represent largely “post World War II development with a mix of urban patterns,” he said.
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