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PDC contemplates Urban Renewal boundary change

Lee Perlman
The Mid County Memo

The Portland Development Commission is considering changes in the Gateway Urban Renewal District boundaries, the better to serve more potential redevelopment areas and glean more money from them.

The district currently encompasses 659 acres and is bounded roughly by Northeast Halsey and Southeast Market streets, Northeast and Southeast 106th Avenue and the I-205 Freeway.

According to PDC's Justin Douglas, the agency is considering including eastward along Halsey or Stark Streets to 122nd Avenue, along 122nd between Halsey and Stark, and/or westward along Stark into the Montavilla neighborhood. (He emphasizes that these are vague ideas and that there is not now a specific proposal.) Also under consideration is removing about 65 acres along the I-205 right of way, since no public agency contemplates improvements there now that the MAX Green Line has been built.

The Gateway district ends in 2022, and between now and then can spend up to $165 million in tax increment funds, of which $140 million remain to be spent, Douglas told the Gateway Program Advisory Committee last month. It can expand by a maximum of 130 net acres. Even this is somewhat problematic because the city cannot have more than 15 percent of its total land area in such districts at any time and is currently close to that limit with proposals to expand other districts in inner northeast, north and the downtown core.

Responding to this last, Larry Kotan, chair of the East Portland Action Plan Economic Development Subcommittee, said, “It's really hard to argue that downtown is more blighted than east Portland, but the city has never seen downtown urban renewal acreage they didn't love. We need to grab what we can when we can.”

Hazelwood activist Linda Robinson said that she feared small businesses will eventually be forced out of the heart of Gateway, and those on the “spurs” that Douglas described could be made viable through urban renewal assistance. Developer Ted Gilbert suggested that multifamily as well as commercial property be considered for expansion, since repairs and upgrades to existing buildings could both make them more livable and increase property values.

Douglas cautioned that although new areas could generate more urban renewal funding, they could also place more demands on existing resources. PDC would need a “compelling reason” to expand, but might do so to capture “blighted property” that could be used for new “tax-producing development.” He mentioned the old Albertson's property on 122nd Avenue at Northeast Halsey Street as an example.

Frieda Christopher of the David Douglas School District commented, “I'm going to be the nasty person here. Right now school districts are not looking favorably on any funds being taken away from us.” (In urban renewal districts, any property taxes above those generated when the district was formed are diverted into a special fund for public improvements and special projects within the district. When the district expires, all tax revenues flow into the general fund as before.)
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