BY FRED LEESON
No five-acre tract in Portland likely has undergone more development scrutiny, planning and neighborhood tooth-gnashing than the former site of Albina Fuel Co. at NE Broadway and 33rd Avenue, hard against the I-84 freeway.
After more than 10 years, dozens of public meetings and countless pixels devoted to potential designs, dare we say that construction is at hand? At long last, all parties, even the once-feisty neighbors, apparently hope so.
The Portland Design Commission on January 24 gave its blessing to a plan composed of what will look like five separate buildings all sitting on a two-story podium for 270 parking spaces. The buildings will include 211 units of apartments and townhouses and a retail strip facing Broadway anchored by a New Seasons food market.
The last hurdle, it appears, was convincing the developer, Capstone Partners, and its design team to upgrade exterior finishes on the industrially-inspired buildings that will stretch for some 600 feet along Broadway. LRS Architects of Portland is the local design firm, along with Runberg Architecture Group of Seattle, which has an extensive background in urban mixed-use projects.
With a hefty prod from the Design Commission in earlier meetings, the design team scrapped a skin heavily reliant on metal panels to a more expensive scheme using three-coat sand-finished stucco. “We think we have a path figured out to make it economically viable,” said Jeff Sackett, a Capstone principal.
The various buildings reflect a similar design theme, reflecting the nearby 1920s-era industrial buildings of the former Doernbecher Furniture Co. in Sullivan’sGulch (now a massive self-storage operation) and the Gordon’s Fireplace building just across NE 33rd Avenue. However, Greg Mitchell, an LRS architect, said the intent was to make each of the four and five-story building look a little different by gently changing color patterns and some fenestration. The overall project will bear the name “Grant Park Village” atop a modest tower element at the key 33rd and Broadway intersection.
The five buildings will create a central courtyard that will be open to the public and provide access to the townhouses. A walkway at the southern edge of a roughly triangle-shaped property may someday intersect with a proposed bicycle/pedestrian way along Sullivan’s Gulch.
An earlier plan from another developer to build 319 condos (remember those?) and retail space on the same site won Design Commission approval in 2008 after lengthy scrutiny, but the recession killed that plan.
Carol Gossett, a Sullivan’s Gulch Neighborhood Association resident, said her association and the adjacent Grant Park Neighborhood Association generally favored the plan. Over the years, neighbors were primarily concerned about traffic that would be generated by a large-scale project. The final plan calls for another major signal at Broadway and 32nd Avenue, which would funnel traffic to the Weidler Street vehicular entrance. Gossett said she hopes the economy will allow construction of the Capstone project.
The sloping site posed several design challenges, including vehicle circulation to allow for fire trucks and grocery supply trucks as long as 67 feet. Storm water run-off will be stored in large cistern, allowing for gradual, timed release into the sewer system.
Commission members offered encouraging thoughts about the scope of the project and its impact on the vicinity. One, Tad Savinar, said it would be a significant link between the Hollywood District and the Broadway commercial strip, and add vitality to portions of Broadway that offer “a lot of less than desirable storefronts.” Jane Hansen said she thinks the project will be “a really popular and much-needed development in the neighborhood.”
Commissioners Ben Kaiser and David Keltner lauded the switch to stucco on the major facades. In 20, 30 or 40 years, Keltner noted, the buildings will still look good and people “will have no idea how it was financed at the time.”
If completed as planned, the project will make the vicinity one of the city’s most dense food centers. While some underserved Portland neighborhoods beg for a new supermarket, New Seasons, QFC and the Hollywood Fred Meyer will be competing within just a few blocks of one another.