An article by Tyler Graf in yesterday's Daily Journal of Commerce highlights a seemingly controversial new condo project near Montgomery Park at NW Upshur and 26th.
The site occupies an entire block in this borderline zone (along with the adjacent Vaughn Street) between residential and industrial areas. It is to be six stories in a neighborhood with mostly smaller two and three-story ones. In the DJC article, neighbors from the La Torre condominiums next door to the project, including Academy Award winning animator Joan Gratz, express worry and even a little hostility. She even is quoted as saying, "It makes you wonder what (architecture) school they went to," and complains that the development would "block views, create street congestion and tower over the sleepy hillside."
I'd paraphrase that as another day in the more or less healthy development of a city.
One thing I didn't get from the DJC article is the important context that the firm designing this project is an especially good one: Works Partnership. They've won multiple AIA awards over the last couple of years, and their hand has been all over the Central Eastside with renovations of the East Bank Commerce Center and the more recently rehabbed B&O Warehouse. Their B-Side6 office building planned for lower East Burnside is turning lots of heads for its powerfully bold look. They're definitely one of my favorite firms in town.
This has also become such a broken record in Portland: a project comes along that goes to the allowable height limit on a key street or at a key intersection, but it turns out that allowable height feels incongruent and too high for some of the nearby neighbors. It's not to say they some of these neighbor complaints don't have merit, but too often I think these people criticize the design simply because they haven't come to terms with how the new building's perfectly allowable scale is going to change their patch of the urban fabric. But cities change, and Portland is on a multi-decade path of big growth. Too much of it is happening on the suburban outskirts anyway. Even with the Urban Growth Boundary, we're not preventing sprawl. We're just slowing it down a little more. This latest project on Upshur is just the latest example of a worthy project that also represents growing pains.
I exchanged email with Bill Neburka of Works Partnership, and he stressed that the design process is an ongoing one, but that they've worked hard to involve the neighbors and do much more than they're required to in order to meet La Torre and other neighbors' concerns. (He also stressed that the attached images are very preliminary.) Here's more of Neburka's comments:
"Our office and the developer, George Hale, have made great efforts to incorporate the La Torre residents' concerns into the massing of the building, including an overall reconfiguration to shift mass away from that condo building and provide additional light and air not required (by any measure of) the zoning code. Minimum required setback we have looked to increase that up to almost double. The La Torre condominium itself does not meet the current set-back requirements of its CS zoning (abutting a residential zone), and we are trying to be mindful of this existing condition. We have met with the NW neighborhood association twice, are scheduled to meet with the La Torre condo association on Saturday, and have another meeting set up with the neighborhood association next Thursday. We have stated many times that it is our intent that this building contributes to the Northwest neighborhood and the city of Portland in a positive way. This is a big building, but it is a very valuable city-block sized site (40,000 square feet) with existing high-density zoning.
In conjunction with larger format apartments, this courtyard typology has explicitly been encouraged by the planning department and public officials as a way to increase the density of the central city and and encourage family oriented living without sacrificing overall livability. I think the idea that a 100,000+ sf building is going to resemble a single family house or a semi-detached rowhouse is really unreasonable.
It is, of course, a modern building that looks to modulate the scale of its mass through a series of screened exterior zones/facades and glass connector bars. The final material selection has not been determined. We are looking at a wide variety of materials to form a simple palette, from metal to wood to brick. I have no idea where the DJC writer came up with reflective metal. We will try to achieve a subtle richness and variation from whatever the final palette is. But we have worked earnestly to create the beginnings of a relevant piece of fabric architecture, rather than pandering to a knee-jerk historicism that would be both insincere and patronizing to the many beautiful (truly) historical residential buildings in the Northwest."
If one wants to take on a condo project that doesn't fit with the neighborhood, a better target might be the nouveau historic building planned -- and being fought -- in Irvington.