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ws

Good work Goose Hollow Neighborhood Association!

Yes, there is healthy potential for increasing density by transferring air rights, but the wildly creative interpretation of FAR code provisions used in the Allegro proposal stood to undermine the careful, neighborhood considerate design process the codes were intended to povide.

The design might be good, and the height might be what the neighborhood needs. Whether it is or not is something the neighborhood should have a substantial role in deciding, rather than have it decided for them primarily by people outside the neighborhod, as might have happened here if city council had approved the Allegro proposal.

Why couldn't Trimet and Sienna have shown a little more consideration for the neighborhood and the city's plan for increasing density from the beginning of this proposal? They might have saved themselves a lot of wasted time and money.


pdx2m2

Brian I totally agree about the need for height and density although I think this project was clearly outside the strike zone. It was too bulky and to my mind too greedy. The developer won the rights to build this building in a competitive process and their winning the right to this land for $1 was based on a tall but thinner and more elegant design that had the neighborhood support. That project proforma worked and would have been an attractive addition to the skyline. I'm confident the architects will agree that the thinner floor plate was both more livable and better architecture

Jim

Brian, I appreciate your blog immensley, but I fear that you're being too soft on the developers, this was a boondoggle in every sense of the word. Seriously, transfering 'FAR' from the Loyyd district to increase the Allegro's size in Goose Hollow...the city would have been borderline insane to let that happen. Skinny tower's work a la' Vancouver BC; bulky towers kill neighorhoods..a la NYC, Chicago, ect. Bottom line; the developer's changed the original plans because they were greedy and wanted to make more money off the building, that's it, no other reason's.

Joseph Readdy

Title 33: Planning and Zoning represents a mutually uderstood agreement about land use and urban form that attempts to balance certainty and flexibility. As a vision of urban form for the city, it fails to paint a very vivid or accurate picture. But it does -if you use it- reveal an urban form that is intended to create vital neighborhoods with active, vibrant streets.
When we were working on the urban design of the PDC Lloyd Crossing Sustainable Urban Design plan, we saw that development in the Lloyd District is stuck because economic conditions didn't support building to the full level of FAR. We believed that a mechanism for district-wide transfer of FAR would provide sufficient reassurance to developers that they could build to current market demand, but still realize the value of unused FAR. Both the Bureau of Planning and BDS informed us that such district-wide transfers of FAR were not possible and that it might take several years to design a process that might result in such transfers. The Allegro project has made this issue something that we need to resolve now.
City Council will now work on establishing the criteria that will govern future FAR transfers: from where to where and how much. Architects and urban designers should plan on making a contribution to this process.

mike conroy

It strikes me as bizzare that there exists unused FAR in the Lloyd district. It has all the ingredients for a thriving community; freeway access, light rail, bus lines, convention center, proximity to the rose quarter and ne broadway and soon a street car loop. Why isn't the Lloyd district being developed? Why so many surface parking lots and squatty 3-story apartments? The FAR should be kept in Lloyd and utilized. Put the parking lots under ground and build the skinny Vancouver BC condos there. Throw in a couple parks and watch it explode.

dave

Interesting that the neighborhood association's original beef with the Allegro FAR was based on going beyond the 3:1 residential transfer bonus - which they claimed Title 33 prohibits. As far as I've know, that issue is still in question, and could still be a sticking point if the development team finds a property owner in Goose Hollow willing to sell their FAR.

This being said, Portland needs to get over its fear of building. We should be embracing projects that increase density - especially along mass transit.

kd

"This being said, Portland needs to get over its fear of building. We should be embracing projects that increase density - especially along mass transit."

Yup. Or we're going to look like our Metro boundries are just 'for pretend.'

Randy Leonard

I appreciate the excellent insights in this post and in the comments on FAR transfers.

However, I would like to respond to just a couple of points.

Density is important.

However, a project that increases density by itself it does not trump other equally important considerations that include proportionality, protecting the integrity of neighborhood plans and looking for opportunities to provide housing for the working poor, to name just a few.

While the developers characterized their efforts on this project as simply "following the rules" it is difficult to interpret their "talking points" as anything but disingenuous.

Responsible developers in Portland should understand that if they are proposing projects that are asking for FAR beyond those that are granted by right, they should at a minimum work with the neighborhood within which the project is being proposed in an earnest attempt to achieve a consensus.

Simply meeting with a neighborhood in order to say you did is not good enough.

That combined with no consideration given to providing a mix of affordable housing or other public benefits to balance the request that the council grant a FAR above the 9 to 1 allowed by right should have signaled those involved in the
Allegro project that their proposed development was not going to meet the councils minimum bar for acceptance.

ws

Geez, I really can't see that Portland has a "fear of building". Seems like there's building going on lickety split everywhere.

Fortunately, some people in Portland are sufficiently motivated to register concern about the kind of approach to building that some developers lean towards.

Density, in Goose Hollow for example, might be a great idea, but maybe there is a better method for enabling it to happen than allowing developers to believe that if they can juggle the numbers, they are free to stack as much of that density as possible in their project, with little regard for other values.

Does it occur to these developers that perhaps in a neighborhood of generally lower height, modestly proportioned buildings, residents might be more disposed to distributing density in number of buildings of a height and mass more complimentary to the neighborhood's character, rather than in the buildings of developers just because they got to the starting line first?

Nice to see that Mr. Leonoard is checking in!

val

Well stated Commissioner Leonard!

You are absolutely correct that density should not be considered more important than existing neighborhood plans and housing for those on lower or fixed incomes. I also agree that developers simply meeting with neighborhoods to say that they have jumped through that hoop is not enough. On projects that will potentially have a dramatic impact on neighborhood character or heritage it is vital that developers "work with" neighborhoods to establish some consensus. Of course its understandable that they are never going to make everyone happy however, working with neighbors (this means actually listening and adjusting plans if necessary) instead of telling them how its going to be, like it or not, would go a long way toward creating a more livable (for everyone) community.

And dave, as to the supposed "fear of building" in this city, have you seen the number of cranes around town? It reminds me of Berlin after reunification. If there is a fear, it is the fear that the sheer volume of change is forever going to alter much of the already well established and often wonderful and/or historic character of the city. Coupled with developers who often ignore neighborhood concerns the intensity of this fear is only magnified.

dave

i would hope that the "sheer volume of change" will ADD to the character of the city. some often write on this blog as if the historic character of portland has always existed. cities are dynamic places built up over time. they are not static snapshots that need to be placed on a mantel. big can succeed next to small if done well. modern can succeed next to old if done well. i think focusing on quality rather than fearing quantity is the way to create good places to be.

Rich

"cities are dynamic places built up over time. they are not static snapshots that need to be placed on a mantel. big can succeed next to small if done well. modern can succeed next to old if done well."

I agree with you in principle, Dave, but I don't think your views take sufficient account of the particular kind of city Portland is. There aren't many buildings in Portland that are both big and old--certainly not by New York, Chicago and San Francisco standards. So the diverse architectural character of Portland and its physical embodiment of the past is unusually imperiled by the rapid construction of large buildings. If we care about maintaining a sense of history in our built environment--and I think we should care, for many reasons--then the scale and placement of new buildings is a very important consideration.

Even more crucial, of course, is that when we build something new and big, we don't destroy what is old. I foresee historic preservation, particularly in the downtown area, as a looming issue of tremendous importance in Portland. Are many of the small but wonderful old buildings downtown protected from destruction? Is there a mechanism in place that steers new construction to lots that are now empty or occupied by ugly parking garages?

By the way, does anyone know whether the destruction of the Rosefriend Apartments is a completely done deal? Mr. Leonard, do you have any further information? (Sorry to get off topic, if that's what I've done.)

ws

Yes, even Seattle has more extraordinary old buildings to rely on for its historical context. Was reading about the arctic hotel resto in Seattle on skyscraper page. I guess I've went on already about the Rosefriend. It kind of smarts that the fate of such buildings can effectively rest in the hands of a relatively small number of people.

Randy Gragg's comments about the last design review meeting related how the historic preservation crowd in Portland joined ranks with the developer, raved ad nauseum about the Ladd Tower design, because we might conclude, the developer devised a design that preserved the Carriage House where it's at.

The thing is, Portland has surface lots and expendable old buildings where new, modern tall buildings can be built without irrevocably destroying important period historical architecture or the integrity of the city's neighborhood or it's parks.

This can only happen when people face the challenge of those who don't care, but have the clout, such as the Goose Hollow Neighborhood Association did in regards to the the developer of the Allegro.

I would like to hear that a chance yet exists for the Rosefriend, but, not knowing enough about those things, it sounds like the city has got itself pretty far into approval of the proposed Ladd Tower design at this point. What would it take to get another look at the plan for the Ladd Block as it currently stands?

mike conroy

I agree with ws. why let the rosefriend fall to a wrecking ball so that the church can build a mediocre condo that has no provisions for middle to low income people when all the church needed was parking.

Jeff Joslin

There’s a tendency with issues and projects like this to read more, or less, into the decision that may have been the Case. I don’t believe the Allegro can be reduced down to a referendum on bulk, greed, or design. The main lesson of the Allegro is simply as Commissioner Leonard characterized it – the developer took a risk by asking for something the rules allows one to ask for, but failed to make the case that the degree of the departure from the base zoning was offset by forwarding of other Central City goals.

The developers hoped to take advantage of the increment afforded a larger project by introducing amenities that a more modest project likely will not be able to offer, such as: greater sculptural play, a higher quality materials palette, roof gardens. They were looking to transfer residual capacity from already developed sites in order to achieve that. Might that result in a more profitable project? Maybe. But it was also a project with greater risk and complexity.

The developer was within their rights to ask, and asked for it in the right manner. Council grappled wholeheartedly with the question of how this regulatory flexibility – established over fifteen years ago in a very different environment – should be evaluated today. Council members gave consensual direction about how they expected future such projects to be evaluated, and requested that City staff and the Design Commission continue to work further to refine that framework.

I consider this a process that worked well, forwarding this interpretive dialogue to the appropriate level, where representatives from numerous corners of the community participated to help the Council arrive at a thoughtful and well-informed decision. The discussion was also well-timed, as it’s started the contemplative ball rolling on this central set of issues at a time when we’re entering a Central City Plan update. I’m looking forward to that discussion, which will frame the next generation of the city’s evolution in the same manner the Central City Plan did so twenty years ago.

Jeff Joslin
Land Use Supervisor
Urban Design/Design Review/Landmarks Review
City of Portland
Bureau of Development Services

Randy Leonard

Well stated, Jeff.

Andrew

I can't get over the feeling that the council's decision to deny the FAR for the Allegro was somewhat shortsighted. I sat for the council hearings and realized how deeply entrench a dispute had existed between all involved parties. I also hear a lot of people vilifying the developers for the fact that they are not locals and for having guts to push the envelope. If you take a look around at some of the projects that are in the works for Portland it makes me wonder if anyone is pushing the envelope to make a better Portland when it takes an out-of-towner to come in and want to do something that Jeff Joslin mentioned which is offer a higher quality building with some great ammenities. People make it sound like it's a transfer from Hillsboro when it was a transfer from a building within the Central city district plan. What if the whole issue of the Lloyd transfer didn't exist and instead the additional FAR had come from the Mt. Zion church? Would the decision have had a different outcome? And with developers buying FAR here and there to preserve their views I fear there is going to be a lot of airspace that disappears as fast it had appeared and hopefully in the future when the population of Portland grows Mr. and Mrs. Sprawl won't be a knocking at the growth boundary to be let out. Wasn't the base FAR for that Allegro site in Goose Hollow previously 4:1? It seems like re-zoning is in Portland's future. I just hope we can find some leadership and vision here in this City. I don't want to just live in the City that works I want to live in a progressive city that won't deny good things to happen and let politics slow it down. I'm seeing too many beautifully design projects getting mutilated after design review and I hope that stops.

Jeff Joslin

An aspect of the Council's decision is that the current f.a.r. and height limitations resulted from deep and inclusive community participation in the context of setting an overall vision for the City, and that departures from those limitations need to demonstrate a better meeting of (other, or overall) Central City goals and policies. While there was plenty of hyperbole on all sides of the discussion over the course of hearing, the final determination was sound and reasoned - the burden of proof is high, it's on the project, and design in-and-of-itself is not going to be sufficient to win the day.

That said, there's still plenty of development capacity to go around. I believe the question is less about density, and more about urban form - do we want to continue to develop the relatively compact skyline envisioned in the 80s, or is the vision different today?

As for design review in general - I'd welcome an off-line discussion about your design review concerns. It's my view that the process benefits a majority of projects, and has never "mutilated" one (though, if the reference is specifically to the recent Mississippi Lofts project or the Apple discussion, I understand why some designers might feel that process pitted "pure design" against a particular notion of contextual response). I say this not because I administer the process. It's quite the opposite - as a practicing architect, I took on the administration of the process in order to reform a troubled program, and continue to look for opportunities to improve it.

Feel free to contact me if you'd like to discuss this more deeply and personally.

Jeff Joslin
Land Use Manager
Urban Design/Design Review/Landmarks Review
503 823 7705
jjoslin@ci.portland.or.us

ws

If bulk motivated by greed was truly absent from the developer's efforts, that would be encouraging, as would be any inclination on their part to include amenities to the design, making it more enjoyable to experience for generations to come.

Having watched how all of this has unfolded though, the feeling that this was not the case, to a considerable extent, is hard to escape. As buildings of this style go, this one was fair enough, but the most prominent feature all along, has been how big and how high this building might become.

Was this because the neighborhood ignored beauty inherent in the design, or obsessed about the building's extraordinary height in relation to surrounding buildings?

Or, was it because the developers chose to run ahead of expressed concerns on the part of the neighborhood specifically related to the dramatic, abrupt, and questionable presence this building stood to represent? In borrowing FAR from across the river in the manner they did, the developers may only have been asking for something the rules allowed for, but as far as the health of the neighborhood and the city is concerned, they did a very poor job of it.

As a result, rather than beauty and amenities in a design they would be presenting to the area, bulk and mass appears to have been the primary objective of the developer.

The other thing curious about this building is the amount of space, time and energy proposed to be devoted to parking. This stands out I suppose because of Trimets role in making the property available to developers, according to news reports, with the objective of encouraging ridership on light rail at the MAC station.

This 18-25 story building will have 300-600 spaces for parking (half of those dedicated to patrons of the athletic club in the case of the taller building) for somewhere around 200 units of housing. If there is one or more parking spaces for every residence in the building, how does this formula encourage greater ridership on the light rail?

pdx2m2

I agree that if the goal is to maximize trimet ridership the parking ratio is high although this project also undertook other goals. Trimet was required by the Feds to replace onstreet parking lost by the lightrail and therefore required the developer to replace the lost surface parking inside the building. The developer also was working with the Mac Club to provide needed parking in a way that would be appropriate and invisible to the neighborhood as the Mac has no other developable land options for parking expansion. As long as the parking was below grade this all made sense.

As to the extent of FAR the developer was primarily motivated by maximizing their profits. They had a smaller project that would pencil and they simply wanted more. There was little or no concern about public amentiy from the start.

I agree with Jeff J. that the process worked - as painful and long as it seemed.

ws

Walking downhill on Salmon past the MAC, what is that big structure on the right? A parking lot. The MAC already has a large parking lot.

With a light rail stop less than a block from their front door, in the face of a situation where an increase in light rail ridership is desired, how is this athletic club able to persuasively argue the need for additional parking?

Makes no sense.

cab

My concern now is that because of the parking requirements, the underground parking will not pan out and the developers won't be able to get the number of units up high enough. What we're going to end up with is a parking garage with housing on top. Yes, It will be shorter, but the design will suffer tremendously, the important "eyes on the street" lower floors will be sacrificed for blanked out fake windows to hide the parking. The question that should be asked of the community is whether height is more offensive then horrible waste lower floors. Height can be done right, Parking garages can't.

pdx2m2

I'm not a big fan of more parking or the mac club although the reality is that most of their members live all over the place and aren't living near light rail...at present they park all through the neighborhood, circling the block and generally disrupting the livability of the kings hill neighborhood as they don't have enough parking.

Ellen

Sorry but I don't buy Jeff Joslin's argument that "the process worked well" in the case of the Allegro. His staff should never have recommended that it pass Design Review-- for all the reasons why the City Council rejected it. The developer's proposal simply did not give back enough public benefit to warrant violating an intact plan, which represented the neighborhood's and a city-wide vision.

Luckily, the City Council took action and drew a line in the sand, temporarily at least, to curtail the incremental process by which developers trump planning AND community input. Jeff Joslin and his staff were asleep at the wheel.

ws

The MAC might consider adding several floors to their existing parking structure, either above or below ground if they feel a dire need for parking.

I still haven't got the figures down, but I always hear underground parking is more money than above. At any rate, the city should be doing everything it can to encourage the construction of underground parking; helping with loans, tax write-offs, etc. Above ground is too important to warehouse cars.

Also, I wonder if it's possible to design parking structures so that at some point in the futue, they can be retrofitted for another use, should the demand for parking decrease. Not likely I suppose, but it would be nice.

val

Not to pick at details but I believe it was actually the Bureau of Development Services (BDS)that was recommending the project pass design review. The Planning Bureau which Mr. Joslin works for is another entity. This brings up an interesting topic though. We have the City Council actually voting against the wishes of one of its own bureaus. Doesn't Commissioner Leonard oversee the BDS? That had to sting, having your boss shoot down your recommendations.

From a neighborhood persepctive its frustrating when we see developers receiving immense technical support for their projects through the BDS, while neighborhood groups get very little support to better understand projects and their implications. Sure, developers often will come to meetings and describe their intentions, but neighborhood associations, ONI, and coalitions like SEUL, combined don't have anywhere near the resources of the BDS. On that note, it was nice to see that for once there was no rubber stamp on a BDS recommended project.

dave

gosh val, i would have guessed jeff works for bds based on his signature in this thread. thanks for the clarification. speaking of clarifications, would you care to explain what you mean by the "immense technical support" bds gives developers? seems like bds has been bending over backwards for neighborhoods lately...or at least the people who claim to speak for their neighborhoods.

val

Oops, my bad. Got names mixed up in my head. Still it was interesting that City Council went against one of its own.

"seems like bds has been bending over backwards for neighborhoods lately ..."
Just exactly where? Details please.

"or at least the people who claim to speak for their neighborhoods."

And what do you mean by this?

Please explain.

Philip C. Smith

As a member of the Goose Hollow team, headed by Jerry Powell, that systematically and professionally dissected the Allegro LUR, identified the issues, researched the Code(s), State Statutes and underlying transactions between the Developer and TriMet and achieved a consensual and carefully reasoned strategy in opposition to the Allegro (Whew! That's a mouthful!), I truly appreciate the active and (mostly) dispassionate dialog that the City Council's decison has generated. As correctly perceived, IMHO, the Allegro simply attempted to expand the 'development/density envelope', one of the principles underlying the concept of FAR and the City's vision of where development/density should occur, too far (pardon the pun) and too fast. It's unfortunate that a good building, beautifully designed, was a casualty of the process. But, as said, the Allegro would probably have survived had it been located just 5-8 blockes east of its proposed location.

Section 520 of the Code (the section dealing with FAR transfers) clearly expresses, in the 'purpose' section, that one of the functions of the FAR base zones, as assigned in the Central City District Plan (See Maps), was to 'step up (from the river), and step down (towards the neighborhoods)', in other words the 'vision thing'. The Allegro, with a 13.7 (I believe) FAR, was only slightly less massive than would be permitted at the Central City Core and, as such, would not have respected the present scale of the neighborhood in which it was proposed. Would this have been a good thing, or a bad thing? Should the Neighborhood change? For the moment,at least, the Council decided that, if the Neighborhood is destined for change, this was not the proper way to do it and, as Commissioner Leonard has pointed out, the Neighborhood deserves a fair hearing on what it wants itself to look like in the future.

Also, countering Jeff Joslin's comment that the Developer followed the rules, I, for one, (I can't speak for the Neighborhood or Jerry), believe that the Developer did not follow the rules in so far as the assignment of review of the Central City Master Plan element of the LUR to the Design Commission was concerned. That type of review, under the code as I and others read it, should have gone to the Land Use Hearings Officer, who, as a lawyer with full and complete knowledge of ALL City policies, much more so than the Design Commission, most likely would have required consideration of, and findings about, the 'Step Up, Step Down' policy, as well as other policies, not considered by the DC, thereby rendering the DC's findings, and decision, legally insufficient. However, that's history, and we've now got the FAR 'pickle on our plate' to brood and conjure over, just as the Council, with Leonard's great and good help, decided we should.

So, keep the debate going! Let's hear from everyone, great or small, on how we want OUR City to look like.

patricia gardner

A couple of points:

1. The proposal to the Allegro did not effect the height of the structure only the density. Many writers are confusing height and density: the proposal did not change the height only the bulk.

2. One thing specifically to consider: every developer in the city wants more FAR/Height than the code allows (even with existing bonuses). Other cities such as Seattle & Vancouver use that desire to meet public goals through specific incentive transfer bonuses. Specifically they tie the transfer to historic properties or to open space. What we have in code currently does not work: Currently developers can take rights off historic properties in a 2 mile radius-there is no maximum to the allowed FAR where it lands (how much FAR over base) and there is no adjustment to height (meaning bulky buildings). What that means is that a smart developer on the westside could take air-rights from a cheaper east side historic property and use those rights on the west side to create a thicker dense building where a historic property once stood.

One idea is to put into code a limitation of where the rights are taken from (from historic property within the same neighborhood), an adjustment to height (so buildings are not so thick), and an overall limitation of how much they can go over the max amount. In other words something along the lines of a developer can get 50 extra feet of height, 3 extra levels of FAR over existing bonuses if a developer takes air-rights off a historic structure in a specific neighborhood for a site in the same neighborhood. This could create a market for air rights that could do something for the public good. This incentive would be of use to any neighborhood with historic districts/properties. This idea has been talked about specifically with Old Town Chinatown as well as the Pearl. We should look to our neighbor's codes for some ideas.

ws

The FAR can be confusing. As I understand it the height of the initial Allegro design proposal was close to that of the final one, except that the latter had aquired additional mass by way of the purchase of airspace from across the river. The neighborhood supported the first one; the tall and slim, but objected to the thick one.

Greater specificity in how FAR is determined would make sense.

The city and individual neighborhoods really ought to be able to inventory their resources, estimate construction needs related to anticipated growth in terms of distribution of density and height for a given area, and then, let developers step to fill those needs. That sounds like planning that would be far better than this chaotic system that encourages developers to come up with the thickest, tallest building the codes allow.

Howard Glazer

FAR transfers were originally intended to protect historic buildings and SRO housing from being demolished to build high rises on choice inner city sites. They were never intended to undermine the well conceived height and density limitations that protect livability in Portland. Instead they have become a device for enriching developers and property owners who covet money above all else. We hear much about improving "the image we project," as a city, but almost never about improving the quality of life for everyone in Portland. Perhaps if we architects had a Hippocratic oath, "Do no damage," we would recognise that what we build impacts everything that surrounds it. Perhaps then we would devote our talents to improving the quality of life and hold in contempt the concern for image. Is it any wonder that we have so little moral force in our city? Howard Glazer

Randy Leonard

Patricia-
Your suggestion is excellent.

I will work with Jeff Joslin to put together a balanced group to help us develop some criteria for FAR transfer that is balanced and hopefully takes advantage of other cities experience.

Anyone interested in sitting on a working committee to help in developing some criteria is welcomed to email me directly at

rleonard@ci.portland.or.us

Thanks for the excellent suggestion, Patricia. I appreciate it. I hope you agree to participate.

Ellen

One problem with development controls such as height limitations versus FAR in the case of the Allegro is that the height limit had no correlation with a vision for development on that site. The height limit was an artifact of a view corridor determined from single point in Washington Park. Any discussion of how to improve FAR transfer must look HOLISTICALLY at other regulations affecting a site, including the fact that rules to accomplish one set of goals (i.e. height limits to protect views from one location) might have unanticipated detrimental effects (i.e. encourage out of scale development) in another.

Jeff Joslin

A couple more minor clarifications.

I do work for the Bureau of Development Services.

At no point did City staff simply make a determination or recommendation that such a transfer should be allowed. The issue for this project first came up before the Design Commission in the project's Design Advice Request. We flagged the question of compability and bulk at that time. Though the Commission had some recommendations pertaining to how the bulk was handled and might be mitigated, the participating Commissioners had no fundamental concern about the potential approval of the transfer at the time.

When the project came in for formal review, despite the D.A.R. support for the transfer, we re-raised the issue to the Design Commission. The project had responded to some of the Commission's suggestions, but we continued to have concerns about scale. Ultimately, the Commission approved the project, with only one Design Commissioner of seven sharing those concerns. Up until this point, the principal testimony came from the neighborhood association representative, who was focusing on procedural issues, and the adjoining property owners, who were primarily interested in protecting the best opportunities for developing their site(s).

As for the decision "stinging" - not the case! On matters like this, the best we can do is take our cues from legislative history, the letter of the Code, direction from the Design Commission, and inform the process to the best of our ability - until there's an appeal to Council. It is Council's, and only Council's, role to provide such interpretive input when such issues get raised. I don't believe this was a simple matter for any Council member, and required the level of input and consideration the appeal afforded. Ultimately, Council did exactly what it should do in such matters - they asserted leadership in a thoughtful and fitting way.

Jeff Joslin
Land Use Manager
Urban Design/Design Review/Landmarks Review
City of Portland
Bureau of Developer Services

Ellen

Thanks Jeff for the clarifications. However, as you state: "On matters like this, the best we can do is take our cues from legislative history, the letter of the Code, direction from the Design Commission, and inform the process to the best of our ability." Both the Goose Hollow Neighborhood Plan and Central City Master Plan provide explicit design guidelines for that site, which the Allegro proposal did not conform to. The City Council agreed. So I don't understand how Urban Design staff could have failed to recognize that noon-conformance earlier in the design review process, essentially FORCING an appeal.
But be that as it may, this whole process has succeeded in stimulating a very productive dialogue and feedback that promises to lead to more nuanced planning design and development.

Jeff Joslin

Actually, the project was found by both the Design Commission and City Council to conform to all applicable Design Guidelines. Both groups approved the Design Review request. Though some Council members felt the project was simply too big, the Council vote only denied the Central City Master Plan request.

And, again, I'd hope all would appreciate that staff can only do it's best to raise issues and concerns with the Design Commission and City Council over the course of a Major Design Review, as we did in this case. However, they are the decision-makers.

Ellen

Perhaps I'm just being dense but I don't understand how, as Jeff Joslin informs us, that "the [Allegro] was found by both the Design Commission and City Council to conform to all applicable Design Guidelines."

We did not need a vote of the City Council to interpret existing guidelines, rather we needed the vote to enforce them.

According to my interpretation of the Central City Master Plan (as I submitted in testimony to the City Council) the Allegro did NOT conform to the Central City Mastr Plan Policy 15: Goose Hollow
(adopted by City Council in March, 1988,) as amended reads as follows:
“Protect and enhance the character of Goose Hollow by encouraging new housing and, commercial and mixed-use development which retains or enhances a sense of community while improving the urban infrastructure to support a more pleasant and livable community.”

The policy further states:

“E. Provide neighborhood amenities by including small pockets of open space in conjunction with new, high density development.” [The Allegro did NOT]

The Central City Master Plan boundaries included the site of The Allegro as a result of the Westside Light Rail Transit Corridor Station Area Planning Process for the Goose Hollow station. The City Council’s adoption of the Goose Hollow Station Community Plan (GHSCP) in January 1996 ratified the acts of the stakeholders identifying this site and the adjacent three blocks for future development complementary to the neighborhood and consistent with the public purpose of light rail development. A primary objective of the Station Area Planning process was to preserve the character of Westside Light Rail Corridor neighborhoods, and to respect existing contributing development while accommodating the new transportation infrastructure.

At the time of the extensive, two-year community planning process (1994-5) for the Goose Hollow station area, most of the public testimony addressed issues of building height at the edge of the King’s Hill Historic District. The Central City Plan for the station area, as amended in 1996, called for a maximum allowable density of 9:1 FAR—[6:1 FAR base + 3:1 residential bonus]— “considering impacts on the Scenic Protection Plan, the adjoining Kings Hill Historic District, and existing building heights” (GHSCP Action Charter Item #41). [The Allegro exceeded this FAR)

Further the CCP called for strategies to “encourage diversity in housing types, particularly in support of families” near the station (GHSCP Action Charter Item # 5). [The Allegro DOES NOT]

The Allegro as proposed does not conform in any shape manner or form to the above Design Guidelines. It's not a matter of interpretation.

rem

After attending the hearing, it became apparent that the decision was completely motivated by politics. After all it was a group of commisioners that decided this who couldnt even distinguish between FRA or FAR. This was not about the technicalities of FAR, bulk, height, etc. it was about political votes. If the neigborhood did'nt protest, there would be no discussion about FAR transfers since this proposal was originally approved by the city agency who's staff are supposed to be the city appointed experts in interpreting these codes. So I am curious if the neighborhood association did not appeal, would the comissioners still feel the same way about FAR transfers or would they have faith on the city professionals that actually know and enforce the code? Is it odd that politicans, not urban design and architecture professionals are the ones making the final decisions regarding the built environment?

ben

But rem, urban designers and architecture professionals are in the pockets of money-grubbing developers, can't you see? They are ruining our perfect city with all these ... buildings!

Unbiased Observer

The waft of elitism, Ms. REM, permeates your being.

Ellen

As I am merely a participant in this blog and not it's "owner" or "moderator" perhaps I'm out of line in saying this but .... This whole thread of comments has been thoughtful, constructive, and provocative UNTIL the last two comments, by "ben" and "Unbiased Observer" who for no apparent reason have taken offense at "rem's" legitimate opinion and ASTUTE observation--and resorted to sarcasm and ad hominen attack. Can we agree to some civility here? If not, this forum will just wither away.

Rich

In response to REM's last point, I would just suggest that it's perfectly appropriate for city commissioners to be politically motivated in their decision-making. They are, after all, elected officials with a responsibility to represent the views and to consider the welfare of those who elected them.

I suppose what REM meant to imply is that in the case of the Allegro the commissioners were political in a narrow, unprincipled, short-sighted or pandering way. But that doesn't really seem to be the case here: where the neighborhood association most clearly affected by the project raised legitimate objections to aspects of it, and in a city that in general is wrestling with the significant changes wrought by building fast and building big.

It seems to me that the unelected "city professionals that actually know and enforce the code" did their job in saying that the Allegro proposal, while unusual in what it attempted to do with FAR transfers, was arguably within the bounds of what our codes allow. But the elected commissioners did their job in trying to consider what's best for Portland as a whole. That may be "political," but it seems like good politics to me.

(Now, if the city council had voted the other way, and if it turned out that the council members had been recipients of large campaign contributions or payoffs from the developers--now that would be an example of bad politics. Obviously.)

rem

The point I am trying to make is that the decision was ultimately made by a group that I felt did not have a thorough understanding of the urban design issues discussed. Instead it was based purely on pleasing the apparent public opinion, which I find hard to believe is represented by a handful of practically self volunteered "neighborhood association representatives".

I completely disagree w/ Rich that politically motivated commisioners are the ones that shape our built environment based on apparent popular opinion. After all, if the neighborhood adamantly supported a Walmart for example at the Alegro site with 4 levels of above grade parking (while staying below FAR requirements), does this mean its right?


In addition, the real issues here cannot be oversimplified to bulk and density. The quality of the neighborhood is not necessarily better because a building is shorter or less bulkier, after all who's to say what's too bulky or not? Those decisions if and when necessary should be in the hands of professionals that actually study and write the urban planning codes and do that for a living and understand not just the short term ramifications but also the long term ones. Thats what they are there for.

Ellen

I don't think the City Council was SIMPLY trying to please public opinion. I think they saw that some vested interests were prepared to challenge the (FAR transfer requested by the) Allegro proposal all the way to LUBA and the Circuit Court of Appeals if necessary and they didn't want (to spend money and political capital) to go to battle over this particular case. I do NOT think they would have taken a stand on the FAR transfers otherwise. And I do not think that design proofessionals who are employed by politicians are any less vulnerable to political influence than their elected bosses. But now that the politicians have taken a stand on development-driven rather than planned growth, there is a great opportunity to improve the (albeit already good) system.

casey

i think that is a real shame bc the allegro would have been an interesting, dense, and high quality piece of residential architecture.
exactly what we need to be supporting and encouraging if portland is ever to break free from the mold of most medium size american cities. density! building up! along a max line!

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