City and Metro Planning Activities

Writing this column about land use issues in our neighborhood tends to get my dander up because our neighborhood seems to bear the brunt of some poor land use policies and decisions. The problem with that is that I want to discuss more issues in more detail than space in this column allows. I have been encouraged therefore, to participate in the Eliot web site land use blog to supplement the Eliot News column and to provide more timely news. I haven’t blogged before, so you may have to bear with me. As a result, I am going to try to just present highlights of current land use and transportation issues in Eliot News and provide more background, detail, and discussion on the web site.

There are several planning activities that the City or Metro have launched that will change the way Portland and Eliot look in the future. These are in addition to the usual infill development projects and new construction we routinely see. Here is a quick run down on all of these.

Columbia River Crossing (new I-5 bridge)—This project will double the number of traffic lanes across the Columbia primarily to speed Vancouver commuters. It will be the largest, most expensive public works project in Oregon, ever, costing at least $4 Billion, which works out to over $6,000 per Portland resident. Oregonians will pay the lion’s share of project costs, despite the fact Vancouver is the beneficiary. The project is being promoted by our Governor, City Council, and Metro, although if you “follow the money”  the real powers behind this are the trucking companies and unions. Vancouverites are at best lukewarm to the whole idea, although their Mayor supports in the hope it will finally make Vancouver a “real” city instead of just a suburb. That will take more than a bridge I think. Promoters say the project won’t increase traffic, just reduce congestion during rush hour. That means, they say, it won’t increase pollution along I-5 as it passes through Eliot. That, of course, is hogwash.

The Portland Plan—I am willing to debate the “City that Works” slogan, but I will agree Portland it the “City that Plans.”  Or at least holds a lot of planning meetings. The Portland Plan will update the last City plan, which has directed development for the past decade plus. It will focus on the Central City, part of which is in Eliot (lower Albina) and there are proposals (which Eliot supports) to include more of Eliot, especially the area neat the Rose Quarter. In addition to changing zoning, the Plan will also revise zones, meaning it will change what is allowed in existing zones or redefine them. That is sorely needed in light of the shift to development of mixed residential and commercial uses on the same land. This process is expected to take the better part of 3 years and there will be plenty of meetings before it is all done. If zoning in Eliot is part of the process, there will be active outreach by the Eliot Board and Land Use Committee.

The Streetcar Plan—It should be obvious to anyone that we can no longer assume fuel for our vehicles will be inexpensive or necessarily available in the future. As a result, the City is planning for more mass transit. Portland is fortunate to have both a newer transit system and multiple transit options in the form of buses, light rail, and streetcar. Most other city transit systems are being overwhelmed with riders as people switch from autos to transit. The City intends to plan for more transit for the future. The Streetcar Plan is part of that effort. While Tri-Met is the primary provider of transit in Portland, the Streetcar is a creation of the City, not Tri-Met. As a result, the City is taking the lead to plan possible future routes for Streetcar. This has many people confused and opposition to the process has surfaced, in part because the City handpicked “community representatives” instead of using the existing neighborhood association process. Sadly, this is typical of the current City Administration who appears to want to control the advice it gets so it can do as it pleases. Hopefully the new Mayor and Council will be more open minded (although I have no hope for Randy). The Streetcar plan will only identify potential routes. Construction on any of these will be years if not decades away and won’t proceed without public input. Two routes have been identified in Eliot, one along MLK the other using the Vancouver/Williams couplet. That latter is preferred by Transportation engineers while the MLK route is favored by everyone else.

Rose Quarter Plan—This isn’t a formal or official planning process, or probably even an open process, but the owners of the Rose Quarter have announced that they are developing a development plan that should be completed in about a year. They need to be doing this to protect their interests during the Portland Plan process at minimum, but whatever they decide will affect Eliot. News from them is sparse so far, but they seem to be favoring a sports oriented development scheme.
Emanuel Expansion—Legacy is expanding the Children’s hospital. That will include construction of a parking structure to replace the parking lost to the new hospital wing. The new lot will be across from Dawson Park. Construction will probably start towards the end of this year and be complete by next summer. The hospital tower will be 7 stories and the largest structure on their campus and in Eliot. The design and construction schedules for that aren’t final yet.

Cascadia’s Future—The paper has covered the financial implosion of Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare if depth, but we have heard little from Cascadia itself about its future in Eliot. They currently own about ½ block of prime real estate on MLK. Their purchase and use of this site was opposed by Eliot because we have 2 similar facilities within about 6 blocks of this site and are saturated with providers of services to low-income and special needs populations, the vase majority of which are NOT from Eliot. We believe these communities are best served where THEY live, and shouldn’t be imported into Eliot. We lost that battle (again). However, Cascadia’s financial problems may result in some of the clinics at their Eliot location being shut down or transferred to another provider. Cascadia wants to prevent that, obviously. They are organizing a community show of support. This is ironic since THIS community didn’t support them to start with. However, if we can figure out where their community support is coming from, perhaps we can encourage them to relocate these services THERE!  Regardless, it is likely that the County will shift Cascadia’s services to another provider who will, in turn, take over their ownership of the current facility in Eliot. We have established a good working relationship with Cascadia and some of the potential alternative providers are not as neighborhood friendly as Cascadia. A “devil you know” argument would be to help Cascadia keep their clinic in Eliot since the operation is unlikely to relocate and they have been good neighbors.

Thanks to those of you who commented to me about the last column. In it I argued that most of the urban infill projects we have seen have wrapped themselves in the “green” flag despite the fact the developers clear cut the lots before building and cover the entire surface the structures and paving instead of providing “real” greenery. Reusing existing structures is the real path to green building. That point was reinforced by a presentation at the Architectural Heritage Society a few weeks later.