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Commission prescribes 75-foot height for 102nd Ave. development

Review of Gateway zoning accommodates some, disappoints others


The Portland Planning Commission disappointed Joe Rinella, made Adventist Academy happy, compromised with Providence, and left Ron Tonkin hanging, as they worked on Gateway zoning regulations.

In a work session last month, the commission reviewed several requests for changes in their recommended changes to Gateway zoning and development regulations. For the most part the commission followed the lead of staff planners, although not all the votes were unanimous and some followed fairly extensive debate.

75-feet for 102nd
The most contentious issue concerned the maximum allowable height for new development on Northeast 102nd Avenue between Northeast Davis and Glisan Streets. In some places the current zoning allows development 100 feet high or more immediately adjacent to single family residential property. Staff proposed a set of “stair step” requirements in such cases. They declared that new development could be no higher than the abutting residential zone allows (usually 30 feet) within the first 25 feet in from the property line, and no more than 50 feet high for the next 25 feet after that. However, the requirement would not apply on these blocks, even though they are developed as single family residences, because they had been zoned CM (for mixed-commercial use) during the Outer Southeast planning process of 1992.

Residents on the block, led by Rinella, protested that the regulations would deprive them of light, air and privacy in their back yards, and destroy their property values. They lobbied the Opportunity Gateway Program Advisory Committee, who showed sympathy. By a lopsided vote, they rejected a height limit of 100 feet for the east side of 102nd Avenue (it is currently 120 feet), as recommended by planners Ellen Ryker and Joe Zehnder. By a closer vote they also rejected a 75-foot limit.

At the Planning Commission, the planners recommended 75 feet. They argued that developments this tall, or nearly this tall, abutted single family neighborhoods on Northeast Broadway, (Irvington Place), Southeast Belmont Street (Belmont Dairy), and Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard. However, commission member Larry Hilderbrand said, “There’s a difference between a tall building that’s separated from you by a street, and one that’s looming over your back yard fence. These people say this interferes with their quality of life.”

The planners retorted that lots along 102nd are only 80 feet wide, and plans to make the street a boulevard may reduce them even more. The proposed 75-foot limit was necessary for the development needed to make the street “Gateway’s signature commercial boulevard.” In fact, they said, developers probably won’t be able to build up to the 75-foot limit unless they also acquire land in the adjacent CM zone. Rick Michaelson said the case brought up a classic issue that occurs all over the city: whether zoning boundaries should be done at a street or at mid-block.

Property owner Gordon Jones said the residents’ proposals would deny him his rights. Picking up on this, commission member Ingrid Stevens said, “I understand the owner bought this property assuming it would allow development to 120 feet, and there’s already been a radical reduction from that. I see no reason not to support staff.”

The commission eventually voted for the 75-foot limit, with Amanda Fritz dissenting.

Unanimously, and with much less debate, the commission rejected a call to impose more landscaped buffering between residential and commercial zones than currently exists.

They also agreed to increase the depth of high-intensity development zoning along the west side of 102nd between Northeast Oregon and Pacific Streets by 40 feet, at the request of developer Ted Gilbert. The Planning Bureau had already proposed to rezone the street face from RH (high density residential) to CX (high density commercial - the most intense development zone in the code).

Adventist Academy
This private school argued vigorously against a series of standards required of new development, including placing new structures along the property line, providing a certain level of landscaping, and providing ground floor windows. Academy advocates argued that these requirements would be a burden to them, and that in particular the window rule would create distraction and potentially pose a security problem.

Zehnder said, “The standards may not be appropriate for a school, but if anything else was ever built there we’d want this in place.” The compromise, accepted by the commission, was to retain the standards, but excuse institutions from having to obey them.

Not you, Providence
The staff and commission rejected a similar request, made for similar reasons Providence Health Systems had made for its Gateway Medical Office Building on Northeast 99th Avenue. Consultant Beverly Bookin said the facility should be excused from providing public open space and ground floor windows should it seek to expand. She argued that it was “not appropriate” for the public to see some ground-floor hospital functions.

Ryker said that this was “an issue for medical buildings across the city.” Having ground floor windows, thus creating a connection between those inside the building and those outside it, “makes the street more interesting and safer for pedestrians.” When it truly creates a problem, builders can keep shades open or install artwork that simulates windows, she said.

This caused Hilderbrand to ask, “Why would we allow windows that aren’t windows? A window that’s not a window isn’t interesting and doesn’t increase safety.” Ryker replied that “It maintains the urban form.”

The commission unanimously went with staff, denying the request.

No breaks for garages
The staff and commission rejected one request from the Opportunity Gateway Program Advisory Committee, and deferred a second.

Their first amendment would have allowed developers an unlimited amount of parking if they installed it in parking structures. Chair Dick Cooley had argued that to build garages preserved land for development and created an urban form, and therefore should be encouraged. It is proper to encourage transit use, he argued, but it is also necessary to deal with current reality.

Staff and the commission didn’t agree. Indeed, the commission was startled by staff recommendations that medical facilities be allowed 4.9 spaces for every 1,000 square feet of floor space, a very high ratio by current city standards. “Where else do we allow this?” Michaelson asked.

“It does seem high,” transportation planner Jeanne Harrison said,” but it’s based on need.” Asked what is allowed in the Pearl District she said it was a “very different situation.”

Staff was upheld on a four to three vote, with Fritz, Hildebrand and Paul Schlesinger dissenting.

The commission postponed action on a second issue. On large sites in Gateway, developers can create Development Plans. These allow more flexibility than the zoning code usually provides, but have various requirements, one of which is that the site have a mixture of uses. The PAC recommended that open space be considered one of the uses that could be used to satisfy this provision.

Staff opposed the proposal. “We agree there is a need for open space in Gateway, but we don’t think this is the best way to get it,” Zehnder said. “There are better ways to do it than to complicate the code like this.”

Ryker said that there is already a requirement that developers provide some open space. Alternatively, they can contribute to a fund to purchase or develop parkland.

Commission chair Ethan Seltzer said, “I’d be stunned if open space was part of a plan to create mix-used development.”

Still to be dealt with are regulations dealing with the East Corridor, a swath of land between Northeast Glisan and Southeast Stark Streets extending eastward to 162nd Avenue. Among other things, there are requests to change the requirements for mandatory open space, and prohibitions against outdoor display and storage by Ron Tonkin auto dealerships, among others. The commission is scheduled to take this up at its next session Tuesday, January 13.
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