LUC Minutes 2007-05-21

Eliot Land Use Committee Minutes
May 21, 2007

The meeting was called to order by Chair, Mike Warwick at approximately 6:30 PM. Attendees introduced themselves.

The agenda was approved. Minutes from the previous meeting were not available to approve.

Mike quickly covered two agenda items while waiting for the final guest. The first being the lack of any Type II or other issues to act on from Planning. The second being a notice that a M37 hearing before Council on a proposal to erect a billboard at 419 N Thompson has been postponed as the Legislature provided a one year extension to act of M37 claims.

Dan Dustch? The new owner of properties at the “Triangle” where Broadway and Weidler split (222-240 N Broadway and 1618 N Vancouver) was invited to discuss what he was doing with these two buildings, one of which (222 N Broadway) is the old Multi-Craft building that hosted the Dude Ranch and other semi-famous black jazz clubs. His intention is to preserve rather than demolish these buildings. He is mostly done with 1618 N Vancouver and is working on 222 N Broadway now. He has been upgrading the wiring, plumbing, and mechanical systems and making some seismic repairs so he can rent space to higher value tenants than the previous warehousing use. He would like to attract retail to the ground floor to activate the area. There has been requests for restaurant tenants by nearby workers. Right now he wants to get the new spaces rented out, but in the longer run he would like to get the buildings listed and do some additional work on 222 N Broadway at least.

Rick Gustafson from Portland Streetcar Inc. was asked to provide us with a briefing on the status of streetcar on Broadway and Weidler due to interest in how the property assessment to pay for it will be levied. Rick gave a brief history of the modern streetcar in Portland. The first line was opened in 2001 serving NW. A second line was extended through downtown to Riverplace in 2004. It has been extended twice since to provide access through South Waterfront.

The Central City Plan has guided development of streetcar to some extent, as it was always envisioned to provide a loop that would circle the central city through downtown and the central eastside and via two river crossings. One of the crossings is the Broadway Bridge. The second, on the south end of the loop, will be a new bridge that will accommodate light rail as well. The current plan is to extend streetcar from NW over the Broadway Bridge, down 7th in the Lloyd District, then down MLK/Grand to OMSI. Connecting the loop back to downtown on the south end will have to wait until the new light rail bridge is constructed, anticipated in 2014.

Funding for streetcar is a combination of federal and local dollars, including funds from local improvement districts (LIDs). LIDs provide funds via property assessments (not taxes), typically a one-time levy. Portland Streetcar has requested federal funding for the this project and needs to submit its design and funding documents by August this year. Consequently, Portland Streetcar needs to clarify the source of funds and levy mechanism for the LID before August and it needs to be approved by Council. Two actions are scheduled for the Council, a resolution to form the LID June 20th and approval to form it August 22nd. While time is short, there is still time to modify how the LID levy is applied.

Streetcar has always used LIDs, but the approach for this segment of light rail is expected to use a variation on previous levies due to the very different context. The properties levied for previous routes were either underdeveloped with plans for extensive development, or core commercial properties. In those cases, the levy primarily fell on either developers (the Pearl and South Waterfront) or commercial property owners (downtown). Unlike some taxes, the LID is applied to government and non-profit properties as well as private property, with two exceptions, federal property and railroads, both of which enjoy a federal exemption. The levy is based on the value of property the year the streetcar become operational. Typically it is imposed a year or so later, and property owners can pay it off over 20 years. Previous levies have excluded residential property. In the Pearl, there were fewer than 400 of these when the LID was proposed. By the time the streetcar was operational, thousands of new residential units had been built and several hundred of these were granted exemptions. Based on that experience, the LID procedures are being modified to include residential property, but provide an exemption for pre-existing, owner-occupied dwellings in low density residential zones. The LID along Broadway would reach 3 blocks into Eliot and would include roughly 3 dozen residences. Most of these would be exempted if owner-occupied, but perhaps a dozen are not in residential zones and would not be eligible for the exemption. A discussion of the unique challenges the proposed LID levy would have on low-income Eliot residents ensued.

Rick is well aware of Eliot’s concerns and has discussed the problem with City officials, who agree, the intent is not to burden long-time residents north of Broadway. At the same time, they are reluctant to carve our exemptions that would both shift the burden to other properties and worse, potentially exempt future “Pearl like” residences from the assessment in light of the substantial economic benefits those residences receive. It was agreed that a small group would be formed to identify which properties are affected and get back to Rick and to Council with a request to find a solution for them. Perhaps the rules can be implemented as drafted, but another mechanism can be found to deal with this problem, such as some other party paying the levies for affected homeowners. It should be noted that the bulk of the LID assessment will be paid by a handful of large landowners, including property owners in the Lloyd District, Rose Quarter, and so on as well as by developers of projects planned for the Burnside Bridgehead and elsewhere along the route.

Rich discussed the schedule for streetcar and its planned operations. Briefly, if they are successful in obtaining funding with their August request (and that isn’t certain), they could begin construction by October of 2008 and begin operation in 2010 or so. The LID levy would be based on 2011 property assessments and levied within a that year or the next. This phase of construction will extend streetcar from Lovejoy across the Broadway Bridge and down to OMSI. Cars would turn around at OMSI and retrace that path to return to NW and downtown. When the new bridge is built by OMSI in 2014, there will be two circuits on the streetcar route. One would flow north and one south along the MLK/Grand route, so travelers can reach destinations going either way easily. It isn’t clear yet what the fare will be. The current Fareless Square to Lloyd District only applies to the Max route and to streetcar and Tri-Met systems downtown. Opening of streetcar may result in changes that are being discussed, but no where near final.

Mike distributed his revisions to his initial proposal to update the LUC’s rules and procedures. This time he has included an explanation for the proposed changes and provides options where there is likely to be a need for discussion. The discussion of this document will occur at a later meeting.

In new business, the LUC was informed that ODOT is reviewing its plans for improvements to I-5 between I-84 and I-405. The widening of I-5 around Delta Park and the eventual “fix” for the Interstate Bridge have turned this area into a primary constraint along I-5 apparently between LA and Seattle. The trucking industry is pressuring ODOT and the Governor for action. A discussion resulted regarding what widening the right-of-way to accommodate more traffic lanes and redesigned on/off ramps would mean for property along the freeway. It would appear to have some pretty significant impacts on properties adjacent to the freeway, especially on the east side, as it would probably be much more expensive to relocate the light rail infrastructure and Rose Quarter facilities west of I-5 than those on the east. Another bit of news was that the developers of the old Wonder Bread site are working with a local firm to “program” the site, meaning look at various ways to configure the development and options for tenants. We may want to hear from them sometime. Mike noted that the developer had visited with the LUC once already and Gary indicated he was going to invite them brief the Board.

Mike also announced he would be unavailable for the June meeting but one is expected to occur with Gary as the acting Chair.

The meeting was adjourned at approximately 8:30 PM.

Respectfully submitted to the LUC by Mike.