Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Handwriting on the wall

Skidmore Code and Guidelines Project CWG Meeting is CANCELLED” read the email message.

This project is essentially a continuation of the Ankeny Burnside project that include among other things the Saturday Market new home (don’t even get me started) and the moving of the fire station less than 2 blocks.

The fire station did not get moved and the money saved somehow disappeared. How they ever thought they could move the station in the first place is part of the think big attitude - dreaming I call it - without one serious thought going to economics of the situation.

This particular project, under planning’ auspices, has to do with the possibility of a change in height restriction in Old Town. This was part of the recommendation of the Ankeny Burnside Development project. See Old Town Blog. See also page 17 Ankeny Burnside Development Framework 2 of 2.

The meeting was canceled because:

Recent conversations with leadership of the Landmarks and Planning Commissions regarding a proposed package that included changes to maximum heights have resulted in a request to prepare an alternative package that does not include height increases.

The Landmarks Commission leadership continues to express significant concerns with any proposed changes to height in the district, and the Planning Commission is uncomfortable moving forward with a single package that includes these changes without the Landmarks Commission's support.

Staff and the consultant team require more time to craft an alternative package that does not include any changes to heights in the district. We understand that the no-height alternative would be significant change in approach at this relatively late stage in the process. We expect to move forward with two packages (one with height, one without) to Planning Commission briefings and/or hearings. This would allow the Planning Commission to discuss their position/preference/issues on the subject in a public meeting with testimony.”

I have always argued that without a height change - something more than 75 ft - virtually no development will take place in Old Town. This - even before Block 25 reared its ugly head.

But, this points out the importance of Block 25 as being reserved for development - not the homeless access center.

Block 25 is the only block that has no height restriction. The city and PDC wanted to use that block for a no property tax generation project - never to take advantage of the development opportunities.

An omen. It was the 1st meeting that someone brought up the possibility the committee’s work might be wasted if the Landmarks Commission was not more involved in the process.

The Portland development process often leaves a final decision to some group that should have been more involved in the initial process, but left in the position of essentially being able to veto a project.

This can occur long after the initial advisory committee (‘veto’ group often has a representative) recommendations have been approved by the PDC board and city council. Something is wrong with this process.

To get past the PDC board and the city council only to have some small group veto the work of stakeholders, PDC staff and paid consultants doesn’t make sense - does it?

What is worse is that my experience is that these members of ‘veto’ groups like Landmarks appointed to be on the various committees throughout the process don’t show up.

But, admittedly, that seems to be true of many of those appointed to these committees - attendance is sparse even though they could have someone else stand in their stead.

The argument by many from these ‘veto’ groups is often dictatorial and shortsighted. Not only that - too often it is only self-interest in the guise of doing what is right for Portland. Of course, what is right is what they want.

But a historical building is more than just determining that it should be saved.

“Maintaining the historical significance of any area is a must. But it comes with the responsibility of maintaining these structures to insure that they are not just empty or underutilized buildings where time continues to takes it toll.” [See Old Town Blog].

This would allow the Planning Commission to discuss their position/preference/issues on the subject in a public meeting with testimony.”

Will Old Town become involved?