At the Boise Neighborhood Association Special Topic Forum Concerning Land Use that was held on Saturday morning, February 10, several city officials spoke about the impending 4-story condominium developments that are planned for Mississippi Avenue. According to Jeff Joslin of the Portland Bureau of Development Services, the new developments will constitute 20-25% of the entire block face. Currently, there are no condominiums and no buildings over 2 stories. Construction is scheduled to begin by the end of this month.
There has been an ongoing conflict between some of the community members and three of the big money developers poised to begin building on Mississippi Avenue (Mississippi Avenue Lofts (MAL), Kirusu International Headquarter/Garden, and the Mississippi Chateau). The dispute concerns city code title 17 that requires new developments in high pedestrian corridors, such as ours, to provide a 12 foot sidewalk. In order to make room for expanding the already-existing sidewalk to 12 feet, the Portland Department of Transportation (PDOT) requires new developments to set back new buildings two feet from the current property line.
Other developers building on Mississippi Avenue have agreed to the setback requirement and have figured it into their architectural designs. The three developers that refuse to set back argue that to do so would cut into their profits, and they are trying to get around the zoning code (title 17) by either narrowing the street or building out into the alleyway behind Mississippi Avenue by three feet.
Instead of following the zoning code, these three developers are hoping to make deals with PDOT without letting the public be a part of the decision-making process. When a neighborhood resident asked at the meeting Saturday morning whether or not the MAL developers had the go-ahead from the city to narrow Mississippi Avenue, Kurt Krueger (Portland Department of Transportation Development Review Manager) responded that he was taking a firm stance that property owners were to be required to make 2 feet. Many neighborhood residents understood this statement to mean that no exceptions were being made for big developers to get around the 2-foot setback zoning code.
Unfortunately, the statement was either deceptive or just an outright lie. Upon further questioning later in the meeting, Kurt Krueger disclosed that an exception had indeed been issued for the MAL to narrow Mississippi Avenue instead of building the new condo 2 feet back from the property line, and that he himself was responsible for the decision to grant the exception. This discovery outraged many of the neighborhood residents who had attended the 2-hour meeting and felt that they were misled all the way until Mr. Krueger's disclosure in the last minutes of the meeting.
Many residents feel that narrowing Mississippi Avenue will only make the street more dangerous for pedestrians, bicyclists, and automobile drivers. The neighborhood is still affected by several recent tragedies involving automobiles striking pedestrians, and the proposed influx of affluent individuals will almost certainly increase automobile traffic. Ironically, Mr. Krueger argues that narrowing the street will have a "traffic calming" effect and that it will cause automobiles to slow down. He had no evidence to support his theory other than the example of other streets that are narrower, such as Alberta Street or Belmont, neither street expecting the kind of huge infill that Mississippi Avenue is expecting. It was not agreed that "traffic calming" was observed on these streets.
The residents' outrage is due both to Mr. Krueger's deceptive behavior and the lack of public notice of the deal that PDOT made with MAL to allow the street narrowing.
The meeting ended with an atmosphere of dismay and urgency. Only a small amount of time was spent discussing developer Kirusu's request to vacate the alley behind their proposed condo as a trade-off for setting back 2 feet in the front of the building. Unsatisfied with the city's inability to protect public property from the greedy hands of condominium-builders, some residents expressed intent to get the advice of an attorney, and a meeting with a land-use attorney was arranged. With construction on the MAL expected to start by the end of this month, and knowledge of the deal to narrow the street only just now disclosed (on February 10, and only after cutting through the deception), some residents feel that they have been bamboozled.
An important Boise Neighborhood Association (BNA) meeting is scheduled for March 12, Monday night, 7pm, where a panel will discuss these issues and a vote will be taken on whether or not the BNA supports the various requests made by developers.