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City looks at 122nd Ave. development options


Russell Neighborhood Association Chair Bonny McKnight discusses development alternatives with planning consultant Peter Finley Fry at a recent 122nd Avenue Study meeting.
The 122nd Avenue Study is continuing to look for an acceptable way to accommodate both auto dealers and dense, transit-oriented development. So far a clear direction has yet to emerge. Proposals range from staying the course to bowing to car dealers.

The study was inspired largely by the struggles of the Ron Tonkin auto dealerships to continue to expand and develop near the TriMet MAX transit station. Here city regulation calls for higher density development and design oriented toward pedestrians rather than motorists. Some of these regulations have been modified over time, but a few significant ones remain. The most obvious is a prohibition on “exterior display and storage” of merchandise, including autos. Another, less publicized, sets a minimum density for new buildings of one-to-one floor to area ratio. This means any new structure would have to have at least as much square footage as the lot it’s located on, and would either have to cover the lot from corner to corner or be more than one story high.

At a public open house last month, city planner Barry Manning and his project team unveiled four possible scenarios for the future. The first would simply retain existing zoning and policies. The second would allow “more flexibility” in these areas. The third would allow more deviation yet along the street between the “intersection nodes” formed by major intersections such as Southeast Stark, East Burnside and Northeast Glisan streets, while maintaining the higher density pattern in the intersection nodes themselves, this last despite the fact that there are already dealerships operating within these intersections. Option Four “substantially changes policy by allowing exterior display and storage throughout the station area,” holding the line only in terms of requiring new buildings to be “oriented toward the street.”

(Note: Manning stresses that the accompanying graphics are intended to illustrate the concepts, and are not maps showing exactly where given uses would go.)

Also as part of the study, the city is looking at changes to the street itself to provide “the ability to get across the street without taking your life in your hands,” in Manning’s words, with the possible placement of traffic islands and/or curb extensions at locations yet to be determined. Finally, there is a policy to provide “connectivity” in the area by creating new streets, or at least pedestrian access, as part of substantial new development.

The open house, which attracted about 100 people, did not provide a clear direction through either verbal or written comments. There was criticism of the existing regulations as a hindrance to an important set of businesses. One business owner in the area asked Manning, “Are you more concerned with making the area pretty or making it profitable? Is this only for the people living in the area, or for others who come here and make us more economically stable?” However, there was also criticism of the auto dealers, and desires to see them do better. “Auto dealers should have a high percentage of landscaping and street trees along 122nd and in parking lots,” was one comment made. Respondents suggested a wide range of neighborhood services they’d like to see on the street.

A meeting of the project’s stakeholder representatives later in the month did not provide much more direction. Planning consultant Peter Finley Fry, representing Ron Tonkin, said of the proposals, “None of these is retail-friendly. Retail needs to be visible to the public, to be friendly and open, to say, ‘Come visit me.’” Joyce Rothenbucher of Hazelwood agreed, “I don’t think a completely covered dealership is feasible. If you’re buying a car, you want to see what it looks like in the sunlight.” To which someone quipped “You’d have to go to California for that.”

Fry also criticized the street plan, saying that the future streets as shown don’t make sense. Consultant Tim Smith said that the maps represent a concept only, not a specific plan. “On Hassalo Street there’s a house in the path of a proposed street, and no one wants to destroy a house,” he said.

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