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."
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