Owner of original Burnside homeless site awaits city offer

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - A resident who gave his name as Clarence stands outside Right 2 Dream Too, which city commissioner Amanda Fritz says would have been judged in compliance with city code - if property owners had gone through the city's permitting process.As far as the city of Portland is concerned, that flap about Right 2 Dream Too was just a big misunderstanding. The homeless campground/rest area on an Old Town private lot would have been legal, says city Commissioner Amanda Fritz, if Right 2 Dream Too had obtained proper approvals from the Portland Bureau of Development Services

before its tents went up in October 2011.

The distinction is especially important this week, because last week the Pearl District Neighborhood Association voted to commit $10,000 to a fund to pursue legal action against the city of Portland to stop Right 2 Dream Too’s move. Fritz brokered a deal last week to move the homeless campground to a city-owned parking lot beneath the Broadway Bridge ramp, which is next to a Pearl District affordable housing building for senior citizens.

Pearl District officials say siting Right 2 Dream Too in their neighborhood was not subjected to the normal public process, and may not meet zoning requirements. They say if the campground was considered illegal by the city at its location next to the Chinatown Gate on Northwest Fourth Avenue and Burnside Street, it should be considered illegal under the Broadway Bridge.

So, if the move goes through, the neighborhood officials plan either a land-use appeal or a lawsuit in circuit court.

Erasing city fines

Fritz told the Tribune this week that the campground on Burnside would have been declared legal if the property owners had asked beforehand for the proper approvals.

That’s not the way Burnside property owner Michael Wright remembers the process. Wright and property co-owners were fined more than $20,000 for hosting the homeless rent-free. The deal to move Right 2 Dream Too includes erasing those fines, with Wright and Right 2 Dream Too dropping a lawsuit against the city for ruling the campground illegal.

Wright says when Right 2 Dream Too began erecting tents on his property 18 months ago, Bureau of Development Services officials came to tell him he needed to follow procedures to learn if the campground would be declared legal. But Wright says he never had the sense that city officials were going to approve the campground.

“I don’t think there was a person involved in the process who had any intention of allowing that to be an illegal campsite for homeless use,” Wright says. “They were looking for a way to stamp it out of existence.”

Now, Fritz is hoping Right 2 Dream Too at its new site will be declared legal. She says the fact that the new site is on public property and the old site was private property shouldn’t matter.

“We’re going to be holding ourselves to exactly the standards that we asked for on the current site,” she says. “The city has to comply with its own laws just like any private (property) user.”

In answer to Pearl District officials who criticized the lack of public participation in the negotiations that yielded last week’s agreement, Fritz says, “It will be a very public process.”

Wright, in the meantime, is waiting for a promised outside appraisal of his property, having been told the city will make an offer to buy his vacant lot in conjunction with the Right 2 Dream Too move. Wright says he paid $1 million for the lot about 30 years ago and will take $2 million for it now.

Wright is curious about what happens if a Pearl District appeal holds up the move of Right 2 Dream Too from his property. He wonders if, now that the city fines have been erased, should the campground stay, would the city begin fining him again?

Wright says if the city doesn’t offer him enough for his property within the next few weeks, he’s got plans for the site. The new agreement bars him from putting up another overnight homeless campground, but Wright says this time he won’t offer overnight accommodations.

“If they lowball me, I am going to put in a day-use facility for the homeless,” he says.

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