LUTC Meeting Minutes 2013-06-17

Eliot Land Use and Transportation Committee
Minutes for June 17th, 2013
Submitted by Chair, Mike Warwick


6:35 pm call to order

Present: Mike, Clint, Allan, Laurie, Jason and Lee. Visitors from the area were present for a meeting Mike offered to facilitate regarding Ben Kaiser’s zone change request.


Minutes from the March meeting were read by Allan and approved by consensus. Allan has posted the draft minutes on the Eliot web site.

Agenda Revision

Mike noted that the agenda had changed because the Council hearing on June 13th regarding the Kaiser zone change resulted in a desire by Council for the parties in opposition to attempt to resolve their issues with Ben prior to the next Council meeting to decide the issue, June 27th. Mike offered to use the LUC meeting time, room and committee expertise to facilitate that discussion in light of the importance of the issue and the tight deadline. Mike provided a broad overview of the Council discussion. Mike testified with the applicant (Ben) in support of a zone change to Rx in order to permit a mixed use development on the site, which is not permitted under the existing zoning (R1). Ben is proposing ground floor retail along Williams and Fremont to provide services that will complement the New Seasons grocery enabling area residents to meet a wider range of their needs locally, which is an Eliot Plan policy. This retail will also be an amenity for the residences he expect to include in the project. When Ben notified the LUC of his intent to seek a zone change, we encouraged him to ask for Rx rather than Ex, which does not require residential development and does not provide Eliot with sufficient checks on the kind or retail development the LUC desires. For example, a 7-11 or Dottie’s could be built in an Ex zone that would use 3/4 of the property for parking. However, an Rx zone allows buildings as tall as 100 feet and restrictions on building mass based on height. At the time the LUC asked Ben not to build a 100 foot tall building and to focus the building mass on the Williams/Fremont corner if possible. In contrast, the Ex zone has a 65 foot building height limit and requirements for setbacks adjacent to residential zones. Area residents concerned about the risk of a 100 foot tall structure were upset by the Rx zone request, preferring the 65 foot limit of an Ex zone. Opposition to the zone change was organized by Paul Van Orden, an Eliot resident. Although Paul agreed to meet with the LUC at 6:30, he was not present; consequently, Mike reconvened the LUC meeting.

Agenda Discussion

In light of the disruption to planned agenda for the meeting time, Mike suggested a discussion of either of the two official meeting agenda items: the Type II proposal for the Cook Street apartments and Eliot positions on pending Comprehensive Plan proposal for “neighborhood center” extending from North Mississippi along Fremont to Williams Avenue the so-called “Lower Albina/Mississippi/Williams/MLK” center. Lacking any clear preference, Mike initiated a discussion of the Comp Plan and the “center” proposal, aided by Lee who was also present at the “mapping” workshop where this concept was discussed with other NE neighborhoods.

Comprehensive Plan discussion

Centers are a primary theme of the current Comp Plan revision. In brief, Planning believes there is a hierarchy of centers, each with defining characteristics. The largest center is the City Center; an area that includes all of downtown, part of Inner Southeast, and parts of Eliot (the Lower Albina Industrial Area, Eliot’s border with NE Broadway). The next center is the “regional” center. At present, the Gateway area is the only regional center in northeast Portland (and perhaps in the city). The “Town” center is next on the hierarchy and the “Neighborhood” center the last. In concept, each center is characterized by a minimum population and variety of services and employment options to support that population. Planning staff assume centers are more or less uniformly distributed across the city based on population density. As a result, they assume the Eliot/Boise neighborhood can support and should have one center, which they believe would be formed by the current mixed use complexes on Williams and Mississippi. Together, these two areas include the key elements of a neighborhood center, such as a grocery, multiple retail outlets serving local residents, employers, etc. A minimum population of 3,500 is needed for a neighborhood center. After 7,000 residents, the center is expected to transition to a town center.

Centers are important in the Comp Plan because they are supposed to focus City resources. For example, if a “designated” neighborhood center fell short of the minimum 3,500 residents, it may be targeted for higher density zoning. If housing options in the center did not accommodate the “right amount” of low-income options or services for special needs populations, City resources would be directed to those targets. About this time, Paul Van Orden arrived and Mike suspended the LUC meeting to pick up the zoning discussion.

The zoning discussion was not part of the official LUC proceeding; nevertheless, a brief summary is included in these minutes for completeness.

Facilitation of Zone Change discussion with neighbors

As the Principal Opponent of the zone change, Paul provided his perspective on neighbor concerns. In summary, they are opposed to a tall building a large (massive) building, and anything too close to adjacent residences. They are not opposed to having ground level retail. The Council also supports having commercial along Williams and a mixed use development, which will require a zone change. For the reasons cited for the LUC support of Rx over Ex focus the compromise into areas of allowed building height, building mass (how much of the site can have how tall a building on it), and on buffer area adjacent to residential lots. Consequently, if there is to be a compromise it need to focus on where neighbors are willing to allow height and mass on the site and where they are not. Paul said he would meet with his fellow opponents to try and develop their guidelines and return in a week. Mike said he would try to reserve the same time and room for that meeting. With the conclusion of this discussion, Mike returned to the formal LUC agenda.

Continuation of Comp Plan discussion

Mike picked up the discussion of proposed centers for Eliot and references the map that was used by Planning staff in their recent “mapping” workshop. The primary focus of committee discussion was on the logic of the proposed Mississippi/Williams center versus two centers based on those respective corridors or areas. The risk of the Mississippi/Williams center is that the area between the two corridors would be viewed by Planning (and developers) as ripe for conversion from low to high density housing. The risk of having two centers is that Planning would target both corridors for more high density housing to meet their 3,500 resident population “floor.” It was speculated that the Williams “center” may have close to this figure in the immediate area already, which would reduce that risk. Trying to determine actual area population is a necessary next step it seems to making the case for a separate Williams or Williams/MLK “center.” The other issue Mike raised was that in all of Inner Northeast, Planning’s designation of “high density residential” zoning is only applied to Eliot. The reason is the map draws the distinction between “high” and “low” based on zoning. Eliot is zoned R2, whereas the rest of the area is zoned R2.5 or lower (lower density). If Planning’s map continue to show this pattern, it is likely to lead to the conclusion both in Planning and the development community that Eliot is ripe for high density housing. Mike suggested we ask Eliot to be “down zoned” to R2.5 to prevent that. He believes this could be justified because it is a historic conservation district. There was general agreement on that point.

Type II proposal for Cook Street Apartments

Mike shifted the discussion to the pending Type II proposal for the Cook Street apartments. Eliot has worked very closely with the developer of this property on this proposal. To date, we have supported his proposals before Planning and Transportation. However; this support was more about the general “program,” or number of units, parking, and ground floor retail not about the actual design of the building. A Boise LUC member has raised a number of design concerns to the Eliot LUC and hopes that the LUC would oppose the proposal so it could be appealed to the Design Commission and ultimately to LUBA. Her contention is that the architectural firm needs to be stopped from using “community design standards” to avoid designing worthy structures. This concern and strategy was presented to the committee. The consensus was that we should not oppose the proposal in light of how cooperative the developer has been with us and use with them. However, there was significant support for incorporating some of the design concerns into our response to the proposal. The discussion shifted to what specific comments we would make. Because we have consistently supported the general program, it would be inappropriate to now say the building it too large, as that would undermine our prior support. Since one of the basis for saying the building is too large is that it isn’t in scale with historic structures on Williams, of which few remain, it was proposed that we instead direct our comments to how this building does not conform to the quality of design and materials of the new Randall building on the Emanuel campus, which is more closely resembles in terms of height and scale. A motion was made to that effect and it passed by consensus. Laurie was asked by Mike to provide language regarding our design concerns that would be more readily understood by Planning staff then general comments such as “it looks out of place,” or “ugly.”

The meeting was adjourned at approximately 8:30.