portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article announcements portland metro

community building | neighborhood news

Setting Precedents in the Mississippi Historic Area 2

May 22nd there will be a public hearing to appeal the citys approval of the Mississippi Avenue Lofts (MAL) project. It will be held in front of the Portland Landmarks Commission at 1900 SW 4th Ave Room 2500a, Second Floor at 1:30 p.m. Monday May 22nd. Oral and written testimony will be received at this time.
The main basis for the appeal is that MAL does not reinforce the historic nature of Mississippi Ave. and does not fit into the size, scale, or mass of the existing historic neighborhood. MAL sets a precedent for development on this historic street that will narrow it by four feet(costing thousands and thousands of dollars courtsey of portland taxpayers since the developers refused to take it out of their building in order to widen sidewalk as initially required by the city), overwhelm any existing building in the conservation district, and block a substandard alley with its loading zone while adding no public parking or landscaping.

This plan will establish a standard that will be used by the next ten developers that have projects in the pipeline for Mississippi Ave. Without modification, MAL will irrevocably change the nature of the neighborhood and have an impact that will be multiplied many times in the very near future.

In spite of allegations stated over and over by the developers, we are not trying to stop development, but we are requesting that new development fit into the character of the neighborhood and contribute to its long term livability, health and safety.

Since this hearing is open to the public, anybody, even those residing outside Boise can attend and be heard. This is not an isolated incident, throughout Portland, neighborhoods are struggling to keep unattractive, box-like developments at bay. My appeal follows:

My appeal of the decision to grant approval on the Mississippi Loft project is based on three objections. One, the waiver of the required loading dock (33.233.310) secondly, the failure to blend into the neighborhood as required by Community Standard Guideline D7, and thirdly the failure to adhere to required Historic Review code (33.846.060).

The city (PDOT) maintains that loading in the alley would have no negative affect on the "transportation function of the right of way". Currently there are seventeen residents who use the alley to access their properties, five of these residents use the alley numerous times every day to access their off street parking garages. The number of storefronts, the nature of the businesses (Grocery store, credit union) and the fact that there will be no customer parking provided by the builders, will result in an often-clogged up alley on a daily basis. Residents and customers trying to negotiate this will create traffic hazards as they try to get in and out of the alley. Additionally, the alley is substandard in width and general condition. Also, these trucks will often be refrigerator types, which will be left idling while parked. The noise associated with the idling will exceed the allowable amount of decibels in a residential area, which the alley abuts, and will rob us of our "peaceful enjoyment of our property."

According to the Community Design Guidelines, new developments in historic and conservation areas "should protect the integrity of individual historic resources and reinforce the historic character that defines the district. New development near districts should reinforce the historic character of the area." In its chapter on Blending into the Neighborhood or Guideline D7, it goes on to explain that, "it is to Portland's advantage to accommodate growth in a manner that has the least negative impact on its existing neighborhoods." Furthermore, "successful project design may also relate to the surrounding building in terms of scale, color, window proportions, and fašade articulation".

The proposed Mississippi Loft height, forty-five feet (yet actually fifty given the grade adjustment) will be higher than anything in our historic/conservation overlay area. In Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, 10th Edition, blending is defined as, "to combine or associate so that the separate constituents or the line of demarcation cannot be distinguished" in the Cambridge International Dictionary of English, blending is defined as, "to look or seem the same as surrounding people or things and therefore not be easily noticeable". Based on these definitions, The Mississippi Lofts, with its imposing height and box-like design fails miserably to blend. It will dwarf the grand historic John Palmer House and make all the surrounding homes (all designated as historic sites or contributing historic structures) appear comically small- a far cry from "blending into the neighborhood" or reinforcing the neighborhoods positive characteristics. The city, in it's notification of approval cites that during the streetcar era there were four story buildings on Mississippi yet careful research, by three residents adjacant to the Mississippi Lofts, has not resulted in any evidence that there have ever been four story buildings on Mississippi. In March 2006, after the Mississippi Lofts presented their third design iteration to BDS, the BDS found the Mississippi Lofts to be, in the words of land use planner Justin Dollard-Fallon, "monolithic" and they had concerns about the mass. The developers were ask to go back, address these issues and present a three dimensional model that would better demonstrate blending into the context surrounding them. They came back with virtually the same building. The only discernable changes being they stepped back the penthouses a few feet and added superficial features like material changes and lines to supposedly, soften the appearance when the sunlight hits it.

Lastly, according to Historic Review code (33.846.060) the applicant is required to contact the neighborhood association for the area, by registered or certified mail, to request a meeting. After the meeting, in which the residents and applicant are to discuss design concerns, the applicant is then required to send another registered or certified letter to the neighborhood association, explaining any changes the applicant has made to the design. Copies of both letters must by submitted with the application for historic design review. Instead, according to minutes and reports from residents and board members, Bill Jackson began attending BNA general meetings in May 2005 but never ask for a meeting to discuss his application. In the November 2005 meeting it is noted in the minutes that, "Bill Jackson is hosting a meeting Saturday at Mississippi ballroom". I am one of three homeowners most adjacant to the proposed project and am also on the mailing list for BNA announcements and I never got any information about a Bill Jackson or a Mississippi Loft meeting. As a matter of fact, none of the neighbors' adjacant to the Mississippi Lofts was made aware of the Bill Jackson meeting. It wasn't until I happened to read an article regarding the Mississippi Lofts in the Portland Indy Media on-line, that I became aware of the "Bill Jackson meeting" and their request for the BNA to give them a letter of support to be voted on at the December 12th, meeting. That December meeting would set a precedent on the number in attendance since I and several other BNA board members canvassed the entire neighborhood with BNA meeting agenda. The far majority of attendees were outraged that the developers had not notified them about their application for design review and voted resoundly to not send a letter of support. The developers stormed out of the meeting and never did schedule a meeting to discuss the concerns voiced at the December meeting. The intent to notify the neighborhood and discuss concerns was absent."

Contact the Northwest District Association 20.May.2006 21:22

friend

Lupin, may I suggest that you contact the NWDA for some feedback on how to address this issue, as they have gotten bombarded with bad buildings, corrupt developers, and a lax city hall. Perhaps it's time for neighborhood associations to collaborate on how to get developers and the city to comply with the law and with the needs of residents.

Mercury reporter advocating for lofts 21.May.2006 16:11

who cares

Over at the Mercury blog the same reporter covering the Mississippi lofts is advocating for them. Very professional.

 http://www.portlandmercury.com/blogtown/2006/05/nimbys_sinking_cities.php#comments

neighborhood plan? 21.May.2006 20:18

fenbar

sometimes appeals will also be considered if you have an approved neighborhood plan which speaks to the issues you refer to. in the conditions for land-use and transportation changes, the city code of PDX explicitly states that the neighborhood plans must be considered.

good luck!

get the facts straight 21.May.2006 22:13

mississippi neighbor

any required improvements to a street frontage as the result of new development must be paid by the developer NOT the taxpayers

the conservation district includes numerous examples of average concrete block warehouse buildings along N Mississippi Ave....you can not pick and choose which buildings have more character and which do not when blending in....blending in means bring together which this design proposal will do

the neighborhood association contact requirement is just that a contact with the neighborhood association

they did meet with the neighborhood association didn't they? it is the responsibility of the neighborhood association to get the word out not private property owners

you are advocating limiting development rights set by city code. are you will to ask ALL property owners to curtail development they have a right to just because you do not like infill and change?

move to the suburbs? you must have fair amount of equity in your place? or walk the talk and give your house to the urban poor. it is just you in the house. you know a large poor family would love to live there even with the redevelopment.

dear mississippi neighbor 23.May.2006 09:51

bht

"you are advocating limiting development rights set by city code. are you will to ask ALL property owners to curtail development they have a right to just because you do not like infill and change?"

being in a conservation district means that new developments have to conform to the existing neighborhood and have to "blend in." your statements, while they may be from your heart, are not supported by a majority of resident or by the Historical Landmarks Commission.

at their hearing yesterday the commission overwhelmingly agreed that this project WILL NOT blend in, and fell just short of denying the project. so, while you are pointing fingers at concerned neighbors who will be directly affected also know that the commission stated that it is within the right of the developers to go 45 ft, but that does not blend in...and they seemed to insinuate that only if the developers could convindingly make the building look three stories, that it would be very hard for them to believe that this building will blend in.

on the contrary it was my understanding that this project would stick out like a sore thumb. being a big long tall box on a block with single family homes, one story boxes, and no frontage even at 100ft.

overwhelmingly it seemed that the neighbors and the commission were not opposed to infill or change, but wanted to see change be in a respectful manner and infill to resemble the current composition of the neighborhood. the Mississippi Commons was cited over and over again as a positive development in the neighborhood. An existing building was modified to create a vibrant business hub and also GAVE BACK to the community with a gathering "commons" area.

again, the commission noted that the Mississippi Avenue Lofts was giving nothing back to this community and that was the reason so many neighbors were standing against the project and why so many turned out to tell the commission just that.

at the hearing it was very telling that the nearly 15 neighbors testified against the project and NONE testified for it. The people that volunteered to testify for it were Peter Wilcox (one of the MAL developers) and Kuniko Kurisu, a fellow property owner / developer who lives on the family farm in sherwood...most defiantely NOT a neighbor that will be affected in adverse ways by these new constructions.

"move to the suburbs? you must have fair amount of equity in your place? or walk the talk and give your house to the urban poor. it is just you in the house. you know a large poor family would love to live there even with the redevelopment."

this is a cop-out argument. this is charging a neighbor opposed to the project to move out based on "equity" and money and easily calcuable and mostly meaningless things. It does not calcualte love and respect for a community, years spent making a house a home and the decidedly incalcuable things that entice people to this neighborhood and make this a great place to live. this isnt about one-upping each other or one side trying to get more. this is about an existing community standing against an invading force, driven by capital, and saying that we value our quality of life more than the net worth of our property. that we want to see quality respectful development and not big boxes to maximize profit.

this is a community and in these trials it is sticking together and demanding to be respected. dear mississippi neighbor, i am very sorry that your heart is in the worng place and only thinking about money and not about the community at large and how these new developments will affect the qualtiy of life.

Nothing to the community? 04.Jun.2006 15:27

a green designer

"again, the commission noted that the Mississippi Avenue Lofts was giving nothing back to this community and that was the reason so many neighbors were standing against the project and why so many turned out to tell the commission just that."

It amazes me that you consider a sustainable building that will save tremendous amounts of energy and water, use of low-emmtting materials and finishes, a cutting edge heating and cooling sharing system and an aggressive waste management plan that ensures all materials leaving the construction site are recycled isn't giving back to the community in some way.

Dense city living is better for the environment which in turn, is better for you. Sprawl eats land. Building vertically is a more efficient use of space and infrastructure. This building is an eco-friendly design that is hoping to get Gold LEED certification-to date only 18 residentcial building have achieved this. This building represents the future of architecture. One that is built on radically green design, sustainably energy and encourages walking, promotes public transit, biking and shared car use.

That's a future that I want to live with!

Another green community vision 06.Jun.2006 10:26

Fueled by Bio-Pedal.Fill up at your local co-op foodstore

How about this for an idea. The Boise neighborhood buys the existing 1 story warehouse building and lot. And we as a community,with the help from the cooperative development,build and manage our own grocery cooperative,bringing healthy,nourishing,affordable food to everyone in the community. We could look into utilizing the existing structure,yes cinder blocks can be used and incorporated into natural building techniques,living roof, water collection and resuse,ground source heating/cooling, maybe we could look into building a second floor, with some affordable apartments, a farmers market and community gathering space in what is now the parking area ?. Create something that is truly supported by and for the community, create living wage jobs for our neighbors, set up community funds to purchase and landtrust housing stock in our community, and keep it out of the hands of the speculators and oppressive real estate market, so we have a mix of affordable rental and ownership options that can continue at a fair price. Take away the fear & struggle of displacement from your home, your community that so many of our neighbors think about every day, and we start to really build a community and then we can start talking about SUSTAINABILITY