In this ongoing era of Portland’s sometimes stressful densification in historic neighborhoods, the latest proposed building project to draw the ire of neighbors and the attention of city regulators is at the corner of 15th Avenue and Hancock Street in historic Irvington.
Called the Irvington Squire, the project would add 18 condominiums in a quarter-block building of potentially six stories and 71 feet. That’s a size within ‘RH’ zoning code strictures. The neighborhood is asking for 55 feet. However, Irvington is designated as a ‘Historic Conservation District’ and there is an effort underway to give the neighborhood additional protection as a full fledged Historic District. What’s the difference? I really don’t quite grasp it myself. But the bottom line seems to be that this building is within the range it’s legally allowed to be, but that the city may still have some leeway in approving or not approving the project.
“The Historic Design Guidelines clearly would preclude such a building,” one Irvington resident who is against the Squire, Jim Heuer, said by email. “The very big question is can the Historic Design Guidelines trump zoning? Based on the first Landmarks Commission review of this project, the Commissioners are divided as to whether they have the right to turn down a building that would be permitted by the zoning in the absence of the Historic Design Guidelines. Which, of course, raises the question: why have a Historic Landmarks Commission and Historic Design Guidelines?”
Clearly some people in Irvington are concerned not just about this project, but about density in the neighborhood in general. A flier sent out by the Irvington Community Association last month for a meeting about the building had as its major headline, “Is Irvington about to become ‘Pearlington’?”
I think that particular quote is being a bit silly. Density is coming to historic neighborhoods, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Pearl is a success story, not a cautionary tale. Granted, Irvington is a place of single and two-story homes, but it's also adjacent to the Broadway-Weidler shopping/retail area. Even if the Squire itself should be rejected, Irvington should get some high-density condos as long as the city continues growing. No matter what tax bracket most Irvingtonites are in, their neighborhood shouldn't be immune from the future.
The Squire would be sited next door to the Gustav Freiwald House (currently home to The Lion & The Rose bed and breakfast), which is listed on the National Register. Some would argue the Freiwald would be dwarfed by the Squire. However, there are numerous taller buildings nearby, such as highrise housing one block over at 14th and Hancock.
The project comes courtesy of a Lake Oswego developer and is designed by a small Portland firm, Perkins Architectural. The design is a neo-historic style that seeks to ape some of the historic architecture nearby. This also brings up the continual argument of whether neo-historic honors or patronizes the actual historic architecture nearby. I, as regular readers know, definitely prefer modern design, but I can’t tell you that the Perkins design for the Irvington Squire is some pitiful work of cartoonishly faux design, either. Although as the project's opponents point out, it could probably benefit from greater setbacks and landscaping.
But Heuer had this to say: "One of the many objections that people had was that in this case 'faux historic' architectural style was an insult to the neighborhood, as it assumed that a grotesquely oversized building could be made palatable to the community by dressing it up with some cornices. Further it was suggested that if a modern building had to be constructed next to the Queen Anne Styled Freiwald House, it should be minimally ornamented to provide an unobtrusive backdrop to the ornate historic structure."
What do you make of the Squire and its right to land in Irvington?