North Portland residents opposing developers’ gentrifying constructions

From Daily Journal of Commerce. Dec 23:

Apartment project reignites tension on North Williams

A lot on North Williams Avenue in Portland is may be the future site of a four-story, 76,866-square-foot building with 84 residential units.

North Portland residents are bucking two apartment developments – one under construction and one in early planning – that are raising the community’s skyline.

The Albert, a mixed-use building going up near the corner of North Williams Avenue and Fremont Street, is now one of the neighborhood’s tallest structures – at 53 feet, 4 inches. That project bothered some residents, and now the same development team is planning to add a similar building just four blocks north, between Skidmore and Mason streets.

The tentative plan is to construct a four-story, 76,866-square-foot building with 84 residential units, ground-floor retail space and on-site parking for 66 vehicles. The vacant lot, owned by the Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs, abuts the backyards of several homeowners. The building would be significantly taller than the homes on the other side of the lot, and some homeowners are becoming anxious about the proposal.

“It’s invading my privacy and that of the other homeowners,” said Howard Johnson, who said he has lived in his home on Northeast Cleveland Avenue for nearly 40 years. “If they would keep it at about the same height as our houses, I would love that. But whoever lives on the upper floors will be looking right down into my backyard.”

The developer of both projects, Jack Menashe, says the Albert and the other tentatively called the Rachel will fill a void of workforce housing in the city’s core. Eighteen apartments in the Albert – nine one-bedroom units, six two-bedroom units and three studios – will be reserved for people who make 60 percent of the median family income or less. The breakdown of the units in the second project has not been worked out yet, Menashe said.

(Rendering courtesy of LRS Architects)

“We like the potential of the North Williams corridor, and are cautiously optimistic about the reception of the Albert upon completion,” he said via email. “Portland desperately needs affordable rental housing.”

The Rachel would be similar to the Albert, according to Trish Nixon of LRS Architects, the firm that worked on both plans. The modern design features ground-floor, glass storefronts facing North Williams Avenue to reflect the “warehousey” feel of the neighborhood, according to Chris Peterson, also of LRS.

But Menashe acknowledged that the infill is upsetting neighboring residents.

“I had an interaction with one neighbor who lives behind, who approached me when we were on site one day,” Menashe said. “He asked me about the plan for the property and I told him. ‘That sucks’ was all he said. Change is never easy.”

Joy Eberhardt is another Northeast Cleveland Avenue resident concerned about the building’s elevation and the influx of potentially more than 100 new neighbors.

“My initial reaction is concern for my garden,” she said, noting that the four-story building would block some of the direct sunlight her yard receives. Eberhardt has lived on the block for approximately 18 months.

But size, financing and layout details for the building are still preliminary, Menashe said, and the development team plans to engage the community once it finishes the pre-application process.

The design will be up for Type II design review on Jan. 3, 2012, including a request to modify a standard relating to loading vehicles.

Some of the residents expressed mixed feelings about new developments in the neighborhood based on deeper concerns about the ongoing shift in demographics. They welcome higher-density infill, but also see a gentrification trend.

“I’m curious about some of the bigger picture ideas,” Eberhardt said. “I like the diversity of this neighborhood, but things are changing. Portland is very mono-cultural.”

Earlier this year, tension surrounding changes in the North Williams corridor, historically a black community, came to a head when a project to widen the street’s bicycle lane was proposed. Some residents said outreach to the area’s black community was inadequate, so Portland Bureau of Transportation officials slowed their project in order to incorporate a more diverse group of representatives.

PBOT has since added new people to the North Williams Traffic Safety Operations Project committee. The community forums related to the bike lanes, which have drawn interest from hundreds of Portlanders, are expected to culminate in a recommendation to PBOT in March.

But the public process for the proposed apartment complex doesn’t inspire as much confidence from some residents.

“It’s something that keeps you up at night thinking, ‘Well, what am I going to do and how will this be handled?’ ” Johnson said, referring to the Rachel proposal. “But you don’t really know until it’s there.”

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