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Argay angry over farmland development


Argay Terrace resident Maureen Lynch strenuously objects to both builder Chet Antonsen's apartment development and opening the dead-end street her home is on.
Mid-county Memo photo/Tim Curran
Developer and former Argay Terrace resident Chet Antonsen is proposing to build two 24-unit apartment buildings on three acres of former farmland in Argay.
Mid-county Memo photo/Tim Curran
A graphic rendering of one of the two 24-unit apartment buildings developer Chet Antonsen is planning to build on three acres of farmland in Argay Terrace.
Development plans for three acres of former farmland in Argay Terrace include two 24-unit apartment buildings and a duplex at the west end. The plans also call for opening two dead-end streets, Morris Court and Rose Parkway.
In November, when more than 140 people crowded into the classroom at Portland Fire & Rescue Station 02 to hear Chet Antonsen's development plans for three acres of farmland in Argay Terrace, at the Argay Neighborhood Association meeting, the atmosphere was tense.

Concerned about the effect on property values and livability with increased traffic, residents were neither happy nor inclined to take the builder's word for anything.

After Antonsen spoke, new ANA board member and real estate expert Al Brown showed how easy it is for the city to open every dead-end street in Argay when adjoining farmland is developed.

Farmland plans
Part of the old Van Buren farmstead, the former strawberry field stretches from Northeast 145th to 148th Avenue. It lies between the Parkrose Chateau retirement community and Argay Downs, a gated community of condominiums and homes. Zoned R3 and shaped like a long, skinny finger, the property is 155 feet from north to south, and 800 feet from east to west.

Typically, the R3 zone (see full definition below) is for garden-type apartments, but is also geared to row houses.

Antonsen said he wanted the group's support for a code adjustment he needs from the city. “I'd love to have the support [of the ANA], but I don't know if it'll do any good,” Antonsen told the group.

The MonteVista Homes (Antonsen's construction outfit) proposal is to build 51 total units, most of them in two 24-unit, three-story apartment buildings constructed as close to both 148th Avenue and the back of Parkrose Chateau as possible. “I believe these are going to be built to condo quality and at some point they could be converted,” Antonsen said.

Antonsen claims this configuration obstructs the least number of views and achieves economic feasibility for building elevators. “Nearly all the views that are coming from Rose Parkway now, we're trying to preserve them,” he said.

Plans call for retaining the old Van Buren home at 3001 N.E. 148th Ave., and creating a duplex on the west end of the parcel (more about the duplex later).

Alluding to a development on Prescott Drive-a boil on the neighborhood's rump-Antonsen said, “I'm not a row house builder.”

To get 24 apartments in each building-code calls for a maximum of eight-Antonsen is asking for a code adjustment to build two, instead of six buildings. “If we're not granted that adjustment, the alternative is to do [six] three-story row houses, which will nearly fill up the entire site,” also obliterating the views of many Rose Parkway homes. “Whether I would do that or not, I don't know. We may re-sell the site if it came to that, but it's hard to say,” Antonsen said.

He said construction could begin in 2014. “We would hope to [begin] build[ing] next summer; it could quite possibly be the following summer. It'll take about eight months to build.”

Plans allot one carport for every unit and one garage for every other unit. The duplex also has garages. That works out to 2.2 parking spaces per unit. City code requires just over one parking space per new unit of development.

Public opprobrium
In the coming years, with thousands of people migrating to Portland, the city needs dense development and infill to save the urban growth boundary. Not only in Argay Terrace, but also throughout east Portland. Consequently, the city exudes a repellent rectitude towards citizens' concerns in this regard.

Realizing development is finally coming their way, Argay Terrace residents' pent-up scorn and anger for policies requiring densities deleterious to neighborhoods was on full display.

Valerie Curry, the former longtime ANA president and only board constant, said in an email following the meeting, “We hoped those present would extend the same courtesy to the speaker that they would hope to receive in a similar situation.”

Asked what his interest in the neighborhood was other than the development, Antonsen said he was a prior Argay Terrace resident, and he owns a restaurant in Parkrose and a home on Northeast 172nd and Clackamas Street. He said he understands the neighborhood's character and sedulously designed the development to incur as little ill will as possible. “We've tried to mitigate as best we can, but still utilize the land.”

Either not hearing Antonsen's answer or choosing to ignore it, one Argay resident said, “So, you have absolutely no vested interest in the area. You have no concerns, know nothing about all these people here who live in Argay; you have nothing but a dollar sign in your eyes.”

With no representative from the city present to share the public's opprobrium, Antonsen absorbed it all, alone.

Amanda Fritz, commissioner of the Development Services bureau, also scheduled to attend, postponed her appearance at the last minute. During introductory remarks, Curry said Fritz would speak at a future meeting.

Asked what the ANA official position is, Curry demurred. “I can't speak for the rest of the board,” she said. Pressed, she answered, “Anything that may affect the living conditions in Argay we're not going to be very happy about it; we live here too.”

Asked why he is not building a development similar to Argay Downs (the adjacent gated condominium community) Antonsen replied, “I've admired Argay Downs for years. You couldn't build an Argay Downs today. You don't have that flexibility anymore; not enough density there.”

Asked about the quality of his renters, he assured the audience not only does he have a good screening process, but also on-site managers. Antonsen claimed no Section 8 tenants occupy any of the 1,200 homes and rental units he has built in Portland. “I don't believe I have a single unit [with Section 8 tenants].”

Unlike Parkrose Chateau, Antonsen's development will not be age-restricted; however, with rents from $1,200-1,250 a month, Antonsen is targeting early seniors-people 50 years and up.

Antonsen told the assembled they had two choices. “The property is never developed; however, someone has to pay for it, or, it's developed at R3 density. The city doesn't allow you to put one house on it; they just don't allow it,” he said.

“This process is not a land use process at all,” Antonsen reminded neighbors. “When you're conforming to the building and zoning code, it's just a building permit process. It's so much less work.”

Another source of irritation was Antonsen's primary residence. He lives in Bend; however, he told attendees he travels to Portland often for business and plans to live in one unit of the duplex when built. “I'm here every other week,” he said. “I still have quite a bit I do here.”

Dead-ends no longer
“Our primary access we would like to be on 148th, and we think this would be used the heaviest,” Antonsen told the audience. He also proposes to open two dead-end streets (Morris Court and Rose Parkway) abutting the development. “That [using 148th Avenue as primary entrance] would also prevent a lot of traffic from coming in on Rose Parkway and Morris Court.”

Interrupting Antonsen's presentation, a Morris Court resident interjected, “So, you're going to open up Rose Parkway and you wanna open up Morris Court? That-that-is-absurd,” which caused a ruckus in the room. After Curry restored order, she asked people to wait until Antonsen finished his presentation before proffering questions.

Antonsen warned the audience the city might deny his request. “If they do, he said, “then the primary access would be the east end of Rose Parkway and Morris Court.” With that pronouncement, the audience not only hissed and booed him, but also said “no, no, no” repeatedly.

After that outburst subsided and the room quieted, Antonsen said, “Recently, I told someone I didn't anticipate being public enemy number one 30 years ago when I became a developer.” He said he understands neighbors concerns, but also looks at it from Van Buren heirs' perspective: They have owned the land since the 60s and have every right to realize fair value for it.

Antonsen said the city estimates 2.8 trips per day per single-family dwelling, or 150 trips a day for a development this size. “I know to the people living there, it's a huge impact,' he said. “From the city's perspective, there is almost no [traffic] impact with forty-eight units.

Asked why he could not make a horseshoe-shaped entrance on 148th Antonsen replied, “We're only 153 feet from north to south and we'd never meet minimum driveway spacing.”

First attempt
Not his first contrive, two years ago the city rejected Antonsen's proposal to build 18 single-family homes.” We tried to do something less impactful, but were shot down by the city,” he said. The city wanted him to add density, demolish the old Van Buren house and create a new through street from Morris Court to 148th Avenue. He said he did not want to build what the city wanted, so he needed to figure out how to design a development meeting city code and neighborhood expectations, neither an easy task. He feels his current proposal reflects those adjustments. “When you're conforming to the zoning code, it's only a matter of getting a building permit,” he said.

Other side
An Argay Terrace resident who was at the meeting but requested anonymity said, “I wish it would remain farmland too, but I realize that isn't happening. Why not get behind [Antonsen] and push the city to make 148th [Avenue] the primary entrance?” She added, “It seems to me he is trying to mitigate as much damage to the neighborhood as he can. If the neighborhood association were smart, they'd endorse his plan.”

Nick Rossi, who was at the meeting said in an email afterwards, “That property will get developed.” Together, the Rossi and Giusto families own 19 acres of undeveloped farmland immediately north of Antonsen's parcel. Rossi and Antonsen have collaborated before. Antonsen developed Las Brisas, a neighborhood of 70 homes on former Rossi farmland at N.E. 165th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard.

“It sounds like Chet is trying to do something that would have the best impact,” Rossi added. “Of course, there's also a benefit to him. My biggest concern would be someone would meet all the requirements of the city and have no concern for Argay and we get stuck with apartments that are lower end, cheaper built and attract renters who wouldn't be good neighbors.”

Alan Brown
Al Brown was elected ANA president subsequent to the meeting. In a December email he said, “Members of the Argay Neighborhood Association have requested that the board of directors of the association take a position opposing the development plan of Pac West II Development for the property located at 3001 N.E. 148th Ave., as presented at the Nov. 19, 2013 general membership meeting of the association. The board has voted to oppose that plan in its current form.”

Neither Brown nor the ANA board specified what they were against, or said what it is they want on the property.

Brown went on, “ANA has to be more active and quicker to respond, and quite honestly be of more value to the community. We need some time to establish what the ANA position should be on the issues.” He calls for a general membership meeting in January to form organized efforts against Antonsen's plans; the city's Comprehensive Plan down zoning and Fremont extension issues. “Getting these things changed will take a show of continuing strength,” he said. “We need to establish some easy, fast, and effective way for Argay residents to input city staff and officials on these issues and to do so repeatedly; some way for ANA to communicate quickly to the community when some action is needed from the community, and make sure as many people as possible are aware of the issues."
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