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Portland Neighbors Send Loud Message to Canadian Developer: Local Values Must Be A Factor

Update on Big Box Battle on NE 82nd Avenue in Portland
Portland Neighbors Send Loud Message to Canadian Developer: Local Values Must Factor in Future Development

PORTLAND, Ore (November 12, 2007) - The Save Madison South/Save Roseway Coalition, a non-profit organization created to fight the proposed Northeast Portland development of a Big Box retail store at NE 82nd and Siskiyou, met with Canadian developer SmartCentres on Monday in a pivotal discussion about the developer's future plans for the controversial site. Those involved included nearly 30 people representing neighborhood groups, local businesses, SmartCentres staff and their public relations, legal, economic, traffic and commercial real estate consultants.

In the first official high-level meeting between the opposing sides, residents repeatedly questioned the developer's rationale for proposing a development that they feel is out of sync with the surrounding neighborhood and the city's character. When asked why the developer chose Portland to propose the massive big box center, their first development in the United States, SmartCentres Land Development Manager Andrew Sinclair responded: "Why not?"

Neighborhood representatives quickly responded to the contrary, communicating their common values along with those of the city, as captured from Mayor Tom Potter's visionPDX research. Those values included a development that fits the character of the neighborhood community; green/sustainable buildings; less auto-centric development; inclusion of smaller local businesses; a component that is representative of neighborhood diversity (economic and ethnic); the highest possible mix of uses; a high contribution of family wage jobs on the site; coordination with existing perimeter zoning; and the activation of NE 82nd Avenue as a place for pedestrians with wider
sidewalks, public interaction space, and store fronts facing the thoroughfare.

Residents made it clear that in order to continue talks with the developer, a new plan must be presented that would include those values to some degree. "Should SmartCentres be involved with the land at 82nd and Siskiyou, we need to see a plan that is radically different than the original application," said Frank Walsh, Co-Chair of Save Madison South. "And if this is not something that is a possibility from SmartCentres' perspective, then we respectfully ask them to walk away from this development and pursue other, more appropriate locations."

Additional concerns were also voiced to SmartCentres' representatives, including safety, quality of life, and the economic implications of international trade (China) relative to the future of Big Box retail, as well as travel trends with higher gas prices, which called into question the overall value of a decades-old model for Big Box shopping center development.

According to David Schiffen, a SmartCentres corporate representative, the developer has changed their strategies based on community sensitivities before. He also cited an example from his suburban
Toronto neighborhood in which he said that SmartCentres is currently developing a shopping plaza with wide support through extensive consultation and collaboration with the community and city leaders. The project, he assured the group, is shaping up to be something that reflects not all of, but quite a number of the concerns he was hearing from the Portland group.

Walsh disagreed with this assessment, and indicated that this was another example of SmartCentres not listening to neighborhoods and opposition groups. "We understand there is controversy surrounding existing SmartCentres developments, including the Toronto Film Studios project in that city's revitalized Leslieville neighborhood. There are still 2,000 parking spots planned at that Canadian site. We've made it clear to SmartCentres that here in Portland, we value and desire a green, community-oriented site, not just a big slab of asphalt, which would be typical of SmartCentres development."

Residents of the area have confirmed they will meet with SmartCentres again in hopes to work toward a plan that works for the developer and the community, but remain skeptical about the outcome. "It is difficult to get our hopes up at this point based on limited visibility surrounding SmartCentres' objectives and their track record," said Dawn Tryon, Co-Chair of Save Madison South. "If a developer only engages the community after withdrawing their application, how then can we conclude they value the people as they do the markets they do business?"

In February, SmartCentres had submitted their original application for a Big Box store development at the Siskiyou location totaling 240,000 square feet on the site, with an anchor retail tenant footprint of
185,000 square feet, and 943 parking spaces servicing the location.

Community members immediately opposed the proposed zoning increase from its current level at 60,000 square feet, citing that size would have a direct impact of traffic on NE 82nd, which is already a state designated high-crash corridor. The developer withdrew their original application just two weeks before the hearing date in October, and promised to come back to neighborhood groups for more input before presenting a new proposal.

For more information about the proposed development or to support Save Madison South, call 503-539-3954 or visit: www.SaveMadisonSouth.org.

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Recent articles in which groups oppose SmartCentres' Canadian development projects:
 http://www.insidetoronto.ca/article/29011 (a "North Toronto" development)

homepage: homepage: http://www.savemadisonsouth.org
phone: phone: 503-539-3954