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Downsized Prunedale project gets advice


A downsized version of a proposed housing project by developers Gordon Jones and Andy Kelly received an informal examination by the Portland Design Commission last month. The commission liked the basic idea, but felt it needed to relate to its neighbors better.

The project, on a large parcel between Northeast 97th and 99th avenues, on East Burnside and Northeast Glisan streets, in the area called Prunedale, was originally planned to have five stories and 87 units. At an October Design Advisory hearing — an informal and voluntary dry run before an official application is made — the commission found the structure to be too massive, out of character with the area and lacking in ground-floor activity. The current proposal, on just part of Jones and Kelly’s holdings, calls for four stories and 38 units, some of them at ground level. It will not have an adjacent public mini-park, as the original did, but it will have an interior courtyard. In an area where through streets are currently lacking, it will have one traffic street to the north, and a pedestrian way 15-feet wide to the south.

Jones told the commission, “This area is zoned for much higher density than it has now. It makes sense, but there are development problems. We can’t build buildings the way they do in the Pearl District.” Thus, the building’s 40 parking spaces will be within the structure, but not underground. There will not be a master street plan to the south, as area plans call for, and Jones seemed to be balking at even the pedestrian street. He noted that long-range plans call for new streets to be paid for in part by urban renewal funds not currently available. He said that area economics would not allow for units to be sold for $300,000 or more, the price in more upscale neighborhoods, and predicted his would go for $100,000 to $175,000 for one- and two-bedroom units. “We need help in getting the vision translated into reality,” Jones said.

Commission members lamented the loss of the mini-park, and were concerned that the courtyard would become “dead space.” Commission member Tim Eddy recommended that more of the units face east or west to take advantage of views. They expressed concern about the small setbacks in view of future development to come. “It will be hard to explain to future residents why there’s a building five feet from their window,” commission member Andrew Jansky said. However, they commended Jones and Kelly’s efforts to produce new market-rate housing at a lower price.

“I really applaud the price points you’re shooting for,” Mike McCulloch, commission chair, told Jones. “We’re looking at projects to produce half-million dollar condos and slapping our foreheads. Thanks for hanging in for another round.”

“This is one of those projects that, if successful, will influence more to come in,” Jansky said. “It’s a foundation for the neighborhood.”
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