What's happening now


Formerly the home of Beaumont-Wilshire Neighbors for Responsible Growth, the Portland Land Matters blog explores citywide land-use concerns, such as home demolitions, with the belief that development should create an improvement.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Middle housing gets demolition treatment, too

A shiny batch of units rises along the river in Portland, while another resident
pitches a tent. Demolitions remove the affordable in-between.
Courtesy of Stephen Poole.

Midway through the city's ill-fated Residential Infill Project the term "Middle Housing" became the buzzword. Introduced by the developers' lobby, it also turned into the battle cry for housing activists bankrolled by developers in another all-too-transparent bid to maintain dominance at City Hall and take down more of Portland's viable, affordable housing stock for cheaper construction with a greater rate of return.

The latest list of demolitions shows dozens of units more affordable than what is being built now—the sort that city leaders and staff, not to mention neighborhoods, say we need. Among the properties destined for the landfill are duplexes of that so-called middle housing, apparently not expensive enough for the teardown crowd to keep standing.

In another irony, don't miss the demolition permit issued to the firm that calls itself "Sustainable Development." Has Portland finally jumped the shark? (We do know Portlanders increasingly are jumping ship.)

How long until we say No to the destructive and outsize impacts of this kind of development?

The city's Urban Forestry gang has gone on the offensive looking for ways to stop or reverse an alarming loss of mature urban tree canopy. Going around to the neighborhood association meetings, the staffers harangue neighbors to plant trees, especially the large, old-growth-suitable kind that teardown developers love to raze for cookie-cutter units across the city.

Preserving this neighborhood old growth benefits everyone and requiring it would lead to more creative and site-specific buildings. A more robust, preservation-oriented tree code—instead of the pay-to-clearcut program in place now—could score a win for everyone, even for developers who might be able to make even more money with a plan less out of a plan book and a project more driven by the beauty of an established tree.

We love trees, don't we?

Win-win-win.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Here come the 4,375-square-foot bungalows


A pair of Northeast Portland houses illustrates the trend in recent development,
which would proceed unabated under the proposed Residential Infill Project.
I've written more about the Residential Infill Project (RIP) here, but not about its scale provisions.

Planners and proponents of RIP still say that the proposal would limit the size of new construction. But one RIP committee member, architect Sarah Cantine, has found the proposal would do nothing to change the shape of the outsize construction we see now. Listen below starting at 1:26 where she presents the math that finds homes would be "limited" to 4,375 square feet, which no developer builds to these days, not even the new house in the photo above. It's only 3,520 square feet.

In this way RIP doesn't change anything about the size of new construction; it maintains business as usual. Many people want to believe that RIP will address the issue of scale of new construction, especially because planners said it would, but they may not be able to wade through the pages of technical proposal language to find that it isn't so. Hopefully planners will familiarize themselves with the proposal specifications and stop telling people about how new construction will be smaller.



(Also in that same City Council session, at 3:03, neighborhood endorsements of developer- and AirBnB-funded Portland for Everyone are called into question by Cully activist Chris Browne. It's not the first time.)

Hopefully all this will be moot soon if those funding the so-called "affordable housing" effort see the writing on the wall with the new City Council makeup and public awareness of who the RIP proposal is for, and what it is meant to do for the building industry. Given all the saber rattling over the recently adopted inclusionary zoning, developers and the Home Builders Association may have their hands full anyway.

Planners still want to say that measures such as the deconstruction mandate (which only applies to a small percentage of homes being demolished) should assuage anti-demo activists, but we've already seen developers game their way out of that requirement—look out for the "dangerous building" exemption, already applied to save a few thousand bucks and to keep on dusting neighbors and neighborhoods with hazmat the old-fashioned way.

Portland has many creative, caring people who work in construction; it's worth wondering why these folks aren't getting a crack at the playing field. Surely we don't have to settle for the gamers, the polluters, and the people making short-term investments that have long-term impacts on everyone else.

We can do better, and now with new leadership in place, we will.