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Apartment boom

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Articles - February 2014
Tuesday, January 21, 2014


For parts of the city that have languished over the years, this new wave of construction is truly revitalizing. It’s converting vacant eyesore properties into modern buildings packed with people and the kinds of retail — niche restaurants and bars, for example — that draw not only residents but also folks from across the city and even out of town. Over time, these more desirable areas also help drive up property values.

But not everyone is enthusiastic about the dramatic changes. As new building brings energy into these communities, it also ruffles feathers and triggers side effects that influence the areas’ transformations in ways that not everyone is excited about. Traditional gentrification issues have cropped up in North Portland, as longtime residents, many of them African Americans in traditionally black neighborhoods, find themselves squeezed out by higher housing costs — and other people who can afford to pay them. 

While infill projects like those along Division meet the city’s goals for density, their size, lack of parking — something the city didn’t require for such buildings until last year — and overall impact on an area almost always upsets neighbors from the start.

0214 APT3
The Freedom Center, a 150-unit complex in
Northwest Portland // by Adam Bacher

Jeff Myhre, president of Myhre Group Architects in Portland, says such issues exemplify the city’s “identity crisis.” “We all want to be this green city based on new urbanist ideals,” he says. “We all want to live in the core and preserve the mountains and the coast so we can go recreate. But the problem is, it requires more density.”

Kathy Lambert has owned Division Hardware and Paint at Southeast 37th and Division since 1987. The neighborhood hardware store is just a block away from UDP’s project at 38th, and it’s across the street from a controversial 81-unit apartment building currently under construction by developer Dennis Sackhoff. Under the city’s prior codes, the building wasn’t required to have any parking for residents.

Lambert is one of many neighborhood residents who has not been happy with all the new development and what it’s bringing to the area. “Just the number of people who are going to be in that building, the garbage, the traffic,” she says. “It’s going to be nearly impossible to get across the street.”

Lambert and other neighbors formed Richmond Neighbors for Responsible Growth to try and limit the size of the building and require parking. While their efforts delayed construction and raised awareness of community concerns, they ultimately were not able to stop the project.

“A lot of people are upset and moving out, but apparently the city doesn’t care,” Lambert says. “It’s like the people in government want it to become like New York City or a large metropolitan area. There are major, major problems with that, and I don’t think it’s right.”

Ben Kaiser has been through his own version of the neighborhood tussle. A former carpenter’s assistant who is now an architect and developer, Kaiser worked with neighbors in North Portland’s Eliot neighborhood to find common ground for a project now called the Aleta. The project will differ from other apartments in that it will be 180 small units of “co-housing” designed for active adults with an eye toward the current trend of aging in place. Area residents felt the 85-foot-tall project was too big and too much for the neighborhood — so much so, in fact, that they took their case to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, which decided in Kaiser’s favor in November. The project will likely break ground this spring and add to the ongoing transformation of North Portland. 

“I understand why it’s a point of friction,” says Kaiser, who’s also planning a 68-unit live-work building near Mississippi Avenue this year called Project X. “It was contentious there for a while, but now that we’ve arrived at a solution, I’m hoping we can all put our heads together and come out with a great project.”


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