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ws

I don't think all infill can be judged the same, but also, that much of the implications and consequences of infill are far from being very well understood. As a result of the move toward permitting infill, I've seen houses sited in what I personally couldn't help feel was too close together, with a result that detracted significantly from the fundamental livability of the effected neighborhood.

An issue like this seems like a legitimate basis for objecting to certain kinds of infill. Prioritizing long term neighborhood livability objectives over a developers desire to take advantage of infill provisions seems like the only way for a neighborhood to ensure that it will continue to sustain basic livability.

Paul

Without developers, I don't think there's any way a city in modern times could operate efficiently. There would be no density, multi-family structures and the like. Of course good design means something different to everyone, but if you live in a city like Portland which lacks much density outside of the small center, you should expect infill as it grows. And hopefully that infill is done tastefully, but not boring.

val

"In many cases, it isn't David and Goliath. Instead, it's often a local small business person"

Developers may often be small business owners but they still have an advantage over avergae citizens. It is an inherent part of their business to become knowledgeable about land-use regulations. Meanwhile, average Portlanders have little understanding (or training) in land-use, leading to a great deal of frustration when faced with a project that seems out of place.

For several years there has also been a rather blindered focus on density in the metro area, leading to the loss of greenspace and neighborhood character, the very things that attract many people to this area. To hear from City Hall that they are listening in this regard is a positive sign, regardless of inflammatory headlines in The O. METRO, are you listening too?

Collaboration is the key to infill projects, if developers want to lessen opposition and move more quickly through the review process. As the article pointed out, the Mississippi Ave. Lofts and the new project in NW are both the result of collaboration. Another brief article in the same section mentions another such collaborative infill project where all seem happy, including the new owners of the infill property. Unfortunately this has not been the norm as neighborhoods have in the past few years been repeatedly hammered with projects where the developer refuses to adjust the size or design of their project. Who benefits in this situation? Certainly not neighborhoods.

One final irony in the story, that you didn't mention Brian, is that ultimately the developer redesigned his project, with fewer units - something he could have done much earlier and would have sped up the process and lessened opposition.

Agustin Enriquez V

quote "...density in the metro area, leading to the loss of greenspace..."

Can you be specific here Val? I'm familiar with numerous developments that could be labelled as changing the character of a neighborhood (sometimes good sometimes bad), but not with green space being lost. Which projects are you referencing?

quote "ultimately the developer redesigned his project, with fewer units - something he could have done much earlier and would have sped up the process and lessened opposition."

I don't know the story here, but do you believe if the current design was proposed originally that the neighborhood would have accepted it as is or would they have asked for it to be smaller at that time? Generally speaking, anything bigger than what exists is too big in a lot of eyes. So that sort of forces a developers hand into designing biggest possible, presenting it, getting expected feedback of too big, reducing it, presenting it, neighborhood appreciating the effort and approving it, and developing the "smaller" project.

I am making this scenario up, but my hunch is that this typical and if I were a developer it is what I would expect to do.

val

By greenspace, I guess what I was referring to is essentially the loss of urban canopy. In situations where developers max out their projects, we often lose very mature trees, only to have them replaced by toothpick sized street trees - hardly offsetting the loss. I'm by no means suggesting we should all have large expanses of grass but certainly the loss of urban canopy has an impact (environmental and visual) in the area.

There is always opposition to any project and perhaps that is where it is the neighborhood association's or BDS' job to separate the legitimate opposition from the "I just don't like it" crowd. But, if both neighbors and developers agree to work together how can the end result be a bad thing?

td

Ok, Portland, its high time you actually admitted that you don't really believe in the UGB and are only willing to give it lipservice when it comes in implementing high-density projects near existing services, jobs, and amenities. These types of stories have a common denominator- they are usually legal and allowed by the zoning code yet rejected by an abitrary and capricious City Council that seems to believe that it can apply the law subjectively. Seems we lilke to pretend we believe in anti-sprawl yet are not willing to have any density come into my back yard. NIMBYism in Portland is worse than anyplace I have been. Porland has more hypocrites than believers in progressive planning. It amazes me that neighborhood associations can refuse to implement the distric plans that they supposedly helped draft. The rowhouse and Gateway projects in particular are allowed by code and were invisioned by thier respective neighborhood plans. For those that don't like the result, they should get involved in the process and change your neighborhood plan; Don't do it on the backs of people following the rules. You can't have your cake and eat it too.

And spare me the ongoing developer bashing. Who do you think built the house you live in?

gerry

Those immediately local to infill projects should have a say in things but I agree with Val about neighbors vs. developers.

In general it's reasonable to suspect that the city's "explicitly stated density goal" runs too parallel with private developers' profit goals. It's pretty clear that the development and real estate industries have a lot of input into the public policy that regulates their activities. That NA input and design reviews happen at all is good, of course, but it's a good point that developers, as well as designers, have professional level skills skills navigating bureaucracy. They get through it, and the last line of resistance is the NA's. There's nothing unfair about it, it simply exists, and developers have no more reason to complain about having to deal with it than they do about the load-bearing potential of a 2x4.

What filter through the media as "NA squabbles" are a distraction from our general lack of assurance that density planning adequately and enforceably meets infrastructure demands.

A good example of this deals with greenspace, in fact. To reply to Agustin, greenspace should be measured per capita, and the amount of public park facilities is legally mandated relative to population. We are expecting to increase the population of Portland without increasing the amount of public parks. But the solution (since building more parks is too expensive) has been to change the requirement of how much park per person we want.

We read a lot about infill development and density, and about a million more people living here in ten years or whatever. We don't hear much about getting police and fire services for those million people, about where they're going to go when they want a picnic, about what their cars are going to do to the roads, etc...these and other infrastructure elements seem barely adequate to the present time at best. We appear to be doing as little as possible to ensure that the infrastructure won't bend under the additional weight. At any rate, the future is ill-served by the tendency to notice the density debate only when it becomes animated by the neighborhoods' perfectly understandable instinct for stasis.

ws

Everybody here seems to recognize that greenspace is not only property that is publicly owned. A lot of it is privately owned in the form of undeveloped lots, often in places regularly enjoyed by many people other besides those actually living there.

Infill has enabled this inventory of greenspace to be gradually seized by developers and subsequently destroyed, replaced by housing. To developers, a build-able lot is an opportunity for profit. Other opportunities for the expression of aesthetic or humanistic gesture associated with the build-able lot might be attractive to some developers, but are readily expendable in their over-riding drive for profit.

In some places, infill has raised and continues to raise unforseen and to some extent, irreversible, negative consequences for the public at large. The people and their government need to have a much more comprehensive and specific plan by which to direct the inner development of the city than the infill provision that now exists.

303

This whole discussion goes back to something that was discussed on this blog earlier - which is the community design standards. If you don't ask for a variance and work within the community design standards, the neighborhood groups don't have any say whatsoever over what gets built.

This is why the fights we hear about are over the warmed over 50s stuff everyone here seems to love and not the scholcky "contextual" stuff that gets stamped out across portland.

The only way that people get a say is if you ask for something that requires a review. If anyone wants to change the kind of buildings that are built in portland, they should try and change the community design standards.

td

There is an easy solution for the need for additional greenspace as the City grows- pass a bond or property tax levy to raise funds to buy private land from its owners for use as parks. That is the only fair thing to do. The comments about those "vacant" lots coveted by certain neighbors that don't own them but would like to think they are public places for thier dogs to exercise ignore the fact that they are private property. Its not the evil developers that are selling them for profit, but the longtime residents/owners cashing in.

To be blunt, if we want public space, the public needs to pay for it. A "new" resident moving into a new project doesn't use any more public space than an existing resident. And I've yet to hear from an existing resident willing to open thier wallet to solve the problem (remember, old houses never paid an SDC fee, ever.)

billb

The immediate problems we have with environmental issues of our own making trumps the petty Nimby's of all stripes. We need to boost the UGB idea to a higher level. The urban core can be 4 stories of beautiful architecture from 82nd to L.O. to the couv. Anything less is burying our head in the sand surrounded by lil toy Craftsmanny bung - galows.

303

This whole discussion goes back to something that was discussed on this blog earlier - which is the community design standards. If you don't ask for a variance and work within the community design standards, the neighborhood groups don't have any say whatsoever over what gets built.

This is why the fights we hear about are over the warmed over 50s stuff everyone here seems to love and not the scholcky "contextual" stuff that gets stamped out across portland.

The only way that people get a say is if you ask for something that requires a review. If anyone wants to change the kind of buildings that are built in portland, they should try and change the community design standards.

303

This whole discussion goes back to something that was discussed on this blog earlier - which is the community design standards. If you don't ask for a variance and work within the community design standards, the neighborhood groups don't have any say whatsoever over what gets built.

This is why the fights we hear about are over the warmed over 50s stuff everyone here seems to love and not the scholcky "contextual" stuff that gets stamped out across portland.

The only way that people get a say is if you ask for something that requires a review. If anyone wants to change the kind of buildings that are built in portland, they should try and change the community design standards.

Robert

I'm with "td" above. What is the city spending all that SDC money on anyway? They penalize high density by charging these huge fees, but don't seem to be increasing services or park infrastructure in proportion to the increase in housing units.

They should be buying new park land!

Agustin Enriquez V

quote: "To developers, a build-able lot is an opportunity for profit. ...but are readily expendable in their over-riding drive for profit."

I have cobbled these bits together to try and emphasize what I have inferred to mean that profit is a bad thing. While I am not a developer, I do have a job and I am personally happy that my employer operates at a PROFIT. I like having health insurance and I like not being laid off. I am also making the assumption that the vast majority of anybody posting here works for a company that operates profitably (unless you are employed by the government or a non-profit).

The idea that developers making money is a bad thing... well... I just don't get it. What is wrong with that? Not to get off topic, but who here wants to work for a company that loses money?

I agree that it is a lamentable situation to have fewer acres of parks per capita. But the comment defending the public's right to use private space--I don't follow that either. If I owned a double lot and someone came onto my vacant lot to have a picnic, toss a frisbee, or play with their dog--that isn't okay. I must be misunderstanding the posts here... Does anybody here believe that is okay (to use another's property without their consent)? On any level??? If you do, could you please make a compelling argument for it, because I would be curious as to what it is?

ws

Agustin, developers making a profit is not a bad thing, and I don't think I've said that it is. I'm saying that making a profit can be a bad thing when seeking to do so over-rides all other considerations to the extent that the outcome diminishes fundamentally recognized livability needs.

I think td has a point in the example suggested regarding people accustomed to the coincidental enjoyment of privately owned, undeveloped greenspace in their neighborhoods. I would agree that people believing in the importance of sustaining such greenspaces should probably consider putting the resources together to buy such properties.

I've heard of this happening, but feel like the dynamics for such an effort are far different, in an unfavorable way, for a group of neighbors than they are for a developer seeking to buy and develop such a property. Consequently, the likelihood of a positive outcome in favor of such a neighborhood effort is way less than it will be for a developer.

(1) A developer is in the deal for profit. A developer gets a line of credit based on the anticipated profitability of the venture.

(2) A group of neighbors pooling cash to preserve greenspace have no anticipated profit incentive generated from the property to be purchased to entice a lender to make money available to them. Neighbors would be mortgaging their homes to make deal like this work. This will make such efforts rare ones.

Greenspace conservation needs to be metro-wide considered and supported. With the growth rate going as it is, much thought is urgently needed in the area of developing some clear ideas about what form of livability to sustain. I also feel that more multi-family housing in the metro area should be going much higher. Doing so offers the potential to help out the greenspace conservation issue, but this runs up against the profitability issue. Without support, developers won't build those kinds of buildings because of cost and risk. Consequently, the outcome for some time now seems increasingly to be density with increased auto congestion and less and less greenspace.

Erin Hoover Barnett

As author of the story, "Score One for Neighbors," I am pleased to see this thoughtful discussion. I completely agree that this really is not a simple case of bad developer, good neighbors. I think the developer, Jeremy Osterholm, is a conscientious developer who grew up in the area where he is building projects. He proposed quality homes - neighbors only objected to the number of them - and he ultimately came back and met them more than halfway.

It was a bruising process and one that arguably the city code set him up for by allowing even more units than he was proposing. Yes, he could have tuned in to the power of the neighbors' dissent earlier on - though by the time he realized it, he was already down the path in design review and so it was hard at that point to decide to start over.

I hope that one could see the complexities in my story that went behind the win/lose headline. I think it's a delicate process and I believe that when the city revisits its comprehensive plan in the coming years, it must address the concern expressed by Osterholm's consultant Ken Sandblast: If you don't like the rules, change the rules, don't operate outside of them.

Thanks again for this very thoughtful discussion and for reading the story.

- Erin

Skinny City Girl

If council is going to vote with the neighbors every time someone tries to build on an infill lot, then they should direct the bureaus not to write high density infill into the codes. The developers do what the code allows and take their cues from the pages and pages of policies in the city's plans that all say "infill, infill, infill, efficient growth, density, infill."

zilfondel

"Everybody here seems to recognize that greenspace is not only property that is publicly owned. A lot of it is privately owned in the form of undeveloped lots, often in places regularly enjoyed by many people other besides those actually living there."

Yea right - so what do you do, go hang out in vacant lots owned by someone else? Last time I checked, you could be ticketed for trespassing for that kind of activity.

I hardly think that we should be including parking lots and former house sites as open space. They are not legally open to the public.


As far as cutting down mature trees... aren't people required to planet new ones? Trees eventually grow up and provide canopy.

I see a lot of street trees on the eastside being cut down these days and not replanted, but I thought there was a law - enforced by the city forestry dept (rumor has it that dept got axed) to keep trees planted on all streets in Portland.

zilfondel

"...fundamentally recognized livability needs."


Which includes a 4,000 sq ft house on a 5 acre lot, neatly trimmed immaculate lawns, traffic-free 14 lane freeways with 300 mile-per hour speed limits, and the license to run over small children and puppies.

Yesiree, American Entitlement sure makes ya feel good! God Damn I'm glad I don't have to worry about silly things like The Environment, Neighbors, or some schlob who might settle for a smaller house than me!


The challenge is to convince developers to design something that isn't total crap. That is a difficult proposition, and we would likely learn more by studying our older, denser neighborhoods *cough* NW Portland *cough* than dropping banal 'context boxes' everywhere.

Don't forget that also, over time, denser buildings that are completed will become more accepted as they age and become a fixture in the landscape. Particularly when people start planting trees, shrubs, and vines to help cover them, like the rest of older Portland homes.

Hell, if you could design a house to be completely covered in vegetation from day 1, Portlanders would likely jump for joy!


What is truly ironic is that only about 5% of the city's land area is zoned for anything denser than single-family housing.

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