Welcome to the inaugural edition of “Ugh…Portland” where declarations matter but housing doesn’t.
In case you missed it, the Portland City Council, the same body that declared a housing crisis and then extended that declaration, voted unanimously to deny an application for a new 17-story, 275-unit, market rate housing tower located near the Willamette River.
Why was the project denied? Was it because the notoriously fickle Portland Design Commission didn’t like the building? No, the Commission had approved the design. In fact, the only reason this issue was in front of the Council is because the Pearl District Neighborhood Association appealed the decision.
Was it the concerns of the neighborhood association that caused them to deny the application? Not according to Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who incredibly claimed for the first time in her entire professional career that the opinion of NIMBY’s from a neighborhood association were not “germane” to her.
No, at the end of the day, after Lincoln Property spent hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in planning and consulting fees and countless hours meticulously planning the building, we are supposed to believe Lincoln’s undoing came down to 13 feet and a shadow.
According to a unanimous Commission, this was their sole reason for denying the application. This massive undertaking that would have housed 275 families in the heart of downtown, was dumped by the City Council because the building would “cast a shadow” on the Willamette River Greenway and cause the Greenway to shrink to 13 feet for a short span.
Here is a list of things you can easily fit through 13 feet:
- A bicycle with a human on it and a walking human (approximately 3.5 feet to 6 feet total)
- Two bicycles with humans and two humans walking side by side (7 feet to 12 feet total)
- Two midsize cars with 4 people in each (standard midsize car is 6 feet, 12 feet wide for two)
- An entire standard width tiny home (8.5 feet wide)
According to a unanimous Council, 13 feet is just too small for reasonable people to use. Plus, let’s not forget the shadow might cause someone to catch a cold. No factual data supports this. The facts do seem to point to 13 feet being large enough to drive a truckload of manure through, because the Council is clearly full of it.
Consider the following and decide for yourself:
- Despite a very rich neighborhood complaining endlessly about losing their views of the Willamette and the Fremont (the height of NIMBYism) the Councilors ALL arrived at the same conclusion about the Willamette Greenway and did not consider the concerns of the neighborhood at all. Keep in mind, this same Council rarely agrees on anything.
- The Portland Design Commission, which stuck to the required criteria for approval, felt 13 feet was just fine.
- To add insult to injury, the Council voted to send Lincoln Property Company all the way back to the start of the application process, rather than allowing them to suspend their application and allow them to adjust their design to save the project.
While the first two points are egregious enough, it’s this last point that smells the most and is the best example of why Portland is often considered the worst city for construction in Oregon. If the Greenway was really their greatest concern, they could have paused the process. The developer could have fixed the design to meet their concerns and the project could have moved on, providing much needed housing relief.
Instead, they sent Lincoln Property back to the drawing board because the Council KNOWS doing so kills the project and will make the neighborhood association happy. It has the added bonus of sending a message to the developer that because they were not willing to play ball and do what the association or the council wanted, they will have to spend millions to come back and try again.
Now, if Lincoln Property is willing to play ball and change their design significantly so that the neighborhood association is in favor of the design, the proposal will move quickly through the process and the Council will laud the effort of the developer to work with the City.
If the developer sells, eats the losses and moves on, then another company will gladly take their position, likely at a lower price point for the land. Lincoln Property will slink back to Dallas with nothing to show for millions of dollars invested and years wasted. Don’t forget, 275 homes were just delayed for at least 18 more months as well, despite Portland’s sincere commitment to fixing the housing crisis.
This is how Portland works and this is why developers and builders do everything they can to avoid working within its boundaries. If a major development interest who is building 275 homes and investing millions of dollars in your city doesn’t have a chance against the neighborhood associations, what chance does the average home builder or apartment complex builder have?
How do we alleviate a supply side housing crisis when your elected officials won’t allow a much-needed building because a neighborhood association wants the views they hold so dear? The answer is as it has been for many years: