Frustration pours out over housing infill - Some Portland Residents Aren't Happy With Smart Growth


The Oregonian

Craig Flynn has stormed out of more city land-use meetings than most Portland residents have attended.

Flynn, 47, who ran unsuccessfully for the Metro Council last fall, is among a growing group of east Portland activists who are spitting mad about how their once-suburban neighborhoods are urbanizing.

"Neighborhoods will change on their own," Flynn said. "There's no reason that the city should expedite the process."

Neighborhoods east of Interstate 205 are changing as a tidal wave of row houses, duplexes and apartment buildings replace houses on large lots. In the 1950s and 1960s, the area was Portland's first suburb whose houses had generous yards.

Now those yards are a target for redevelopment because they represent open land, something that most of Portland's closer-to-downtown neighborhoods don't have.

City zoning, enacted since 1996, allows back yards and odd-shaped parcels to be developed with housing. It also allows for houses along arterials to be replaced with apartment buildings and row houses.

Flynn, who lives in a house his father built three lots west of Northeast 122nd Avenue, was outraged the day he learned that the city rezoned his neighbors' property for apartments. Now he imagines a day when his new neighbors will look down on his back yard from their balconies. He blames the state Land Conservation and Development Commission, Metro and the city of Portland for mandating the redevelopment of east Portland.

"If you go to the city, they blame Metro," Flynn said. "Metro says, 'We were only doing what LCDC told us.' LCDC says, 'The cities made us do it.' We've gotten away from neighbors' deciding how a neighborhood should change."

The policies guiding redevelopment are rooted in state land-use policy established in the 1970s and a series of Metro and city decisions in the years since. Metro's long-range goals call for Portland to add 70,704 houses, condominiums and apartments by 2017.

Portland, in turn, targeted that growth to the east and southwest parts of the city, which it annexed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Redevelopment of existing neighborhoods and infill development is designed to help the region maintain its urban growth boundary, which is designed to protect farmland from sprawl.

"Development helter-skelter" The results of holding the boundary are cropping up all over east Portland.

Whole blocks of row houses rise from semirural land south of Southeast Powell Boulevard. Near Interstate 84, row house and town house developments are fit onto lots where a single house used to stand. Near Gateway, duplexes are under construction behind little houses on 5,000-square-foot lots.

"It's development helter-skelter," said Richard Bixby, executive director of the East Portland Neighborhood Office.

Everything could work better, said east Portland resident Shirley French, if the city didn't turn a deaf ear to critics and label them as difficult. French, who says she is "notorious" for her angry calls to the city, has stopped going to most city-sponsored meetings.

French lives two blocks outside the Gateway urban renewal district in the house that she and her late husband bought in the 1950s. But the morning light doesn't reach French's window since a two-story duplex was built in a back yard to her east.

Her neighborhood of modest, aging houses has been rezoned for higher density, including more than three homes on the 5,000-square-foot lots where there once was one. Her morning walks have turned into daily tours of houses being demolished and duplexes under construction in their place. A handful of back yards are for sale.

French continues speaking out, but she figures she is talking into the wind.

But Cary Pinard, chief planner in the Portland Planning Bureau, urged residents not to be discouraged by city bureaucracy and to keep speaking their minds.

"A lot of neighbors," she said, "are actually more effective than they think they are."

Still, a Gateway urban renewal meeting in February stirred more criticism. The city-appointed citizen advisory committee spent most of the two-hour meeting talking about the district's draft of a housing policy. A dozen people who came to testify waited until 8:50 p.m. for the chance. Then they were advised that the meeting would end promptly in 10 minutes, giving them less than one minute each to speak.

Some people walked out. Flynn fumed that the committee was a "kangaroo court."

Outside the meeting, Jim Karlock passed out yellow bumper stickers that read, "I'm allergic to Katz," and told people about his Web site, where he compiles data about density and how the city subsidizes it.

Flynn waved the yellow bumper sticker as he drove away in his Volkswagen bus. The red-faced anger seemed to have melted.

"I don't want to get mad," Flynn said. "I just want to make the point that I'm fed up with the whole system." Kara Briggs: 503-294-5936;


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