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122nd Avenue Project approved


Last month the Portland City Council approved the 122nd Avenue Project after first completing the work of amending it to accommodate various special interests. At an Aug. 2 hearing, council adopted three new amendments to the proposed new regulations:

Amendment No. 1 — At the request of the Safeway Corporation, council made an exception to an existing prohibition to new “auto-related” uses, including gas pumps, in the area. As written by Planner and Project Manager Barry Manning, gas pumps would be allowed on sites at least 150,000 square feet in size, occupied by structures containing at least 50,000 square feet of floor area.

Commissioner Randy Leonard, who is seeking to require that gas stations dispense bio-diesel fuel, asked for and received a commitment from Safeway Attorney Mark Whitlow that 20 percent of the fuel dispensed at Safeway would be bio-diesel. For the city as a whole, Leonard is asking for a five percent share.

Manning recommended against the amendment. He argued that it seemed to violate the goal of creating a transit and pedestrian-oriented area. Also, because the amendment was introduced so late in the process, there wasn’t time for public discussion. (A meeting on the issue in late July was sparsely attended and produced a “lack of public consensus” on the benefits of the proposal. Third, he said, there was an issue of “equity.” The amendment as written would not allow new conventional service stations into the area, and the two currently there are non-conforming uses that can’t rebuild or expand. Leonard challenged this last, saying that he’d seen a station in the area “completely rebuilt in the last two years. That’s not consistent with what you said.”

Amendment No. 2 — Council rezoned some property near East Burnside Street from CM to CX. Manning argued that the new designation is consistent with station-area development policies. CX, the highest-intensity development zone in the city code, allows high-density commercial, office and housing development, the sort of thing mass transit improvements is intended to attract. Unlike CM, CX does not require that housing be part of any new development, but the change would mean that some existing commercial uses would no longer be non-conforming.

At a previous hearing, Manning argued that the change violated the city’s No Net Loss Housing Policy, which stipulates that if land is rezoned from a zone that requires housing to one that doesn’t, the lost capacity must be restored somewhere in the city. At the time, Commissioner Erik Sten dismissed the issue, saying that with new housing development the policy was no longer important. Sten was absent from the August vote.

Unstated was the fact that the zone change would make the land more useable for dealerships.

Amendment No. 3 —
122nd Avenue car dealer Ray Reece requested a change in the regulations for expansion by non-conforming uses. Previously, any new structure on the avenue had to have a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of one to one, or one square foot of floor area per square foot of lot space. The draft had already lowered this to .4 to one. Reece, through Attorney Steve Abel, asked that non-conforming uses be allowed to expand their buildings to a density of less than .4 to one, so long as it was greater than what already existed. Planner Joe Zehnder said that this was the intention of the new regulations. He thought Abel’s intent was already contained in the proposal, but the Planning Bureau had no objection if Abel and council wanted to make it more explicit. This was the least controversial of the six amendments.

Existing goals and policies on the avenue are designed to encourage high-intensity commercial and residential development, with a pedestrian-friendly design, near the East 122nd Avenue MAX Light Rail Station. The project’s intent was to reconcile this with the needs of existing businesses on the avenue, notably Ron Tonkin and other car dealerships. The project staff, led by Manning, and a citizen working group chose to steer a middle course, retaining existing goals and policies but providing a little more flexibility for existing businesses to operate, remodel and expand.

This wasn’t enough for the Tonkins. At the last hearing, Executive Brad Tonkin tried unsuccessfully to get the Portland Planning Commission to amend the recommendations to suit the Tonkins’ needs. During a council hearing in July, Leonard pushed through a series of amendments, identical to those previously requested by the Tonkins. One reduced the size of three “nodes,” where stricter regulation of new uses will continue, considerably below what was recommended by the Planning Commission. A second expanded the allowed street frontage devoted to auto movement and parking from 50 percent to 70 percent. A third would expand the allowed front setback from 20 feet to 24.

Mayor Tom Potter cast the only dissenting vote by a council member, and only on the gas pump amendment. “I felt this violated the (public participation) process,” Potter said. Making bio-diesel fuel available is “a worthy goal, but you let a lot of people out of the process.”

Whitlow asked why the amendment was not introduced until the last Planning Commission hearing. Council apologized, “We’re involved in so many processes in so many jurisdictions. It was not because of a lack of outreach by your staff. All we could do is come to the Planning Commission hat in hand and say we’re sorry.”

Leonard said, “I’m very sensitive to the criticism that this wasn’t part of the process. But it’s a tremendous opportunity to go beyond existing requirements” to promote bio-diesel fuel.

On Aug. 16, the final City Council vote for the complete proposal was five to zero.

Two members of the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association, Joyce Rothenbucher and Linda Robinson, attended the Aug. 2 session but did not testify. Robinson, who had testified against Leonard’s amendments in July, told the Memo she was too upset to speak further on the issue.
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