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Multnomah neighbors drop fight to block water tank sale

Judge's ruling on injunction prompts group's decision


by: COURTESY OF ALVARO FONTAN - An aerial view shows the Freeman water tank site in a Southwest Portland neighborhood. Area residents decided last week to drop their lawsuit trying to block the tank property sale by the city.The Multnomah Neighborhood Association and the Woods Park Advocates decided last week to drop their legal fight against the sale of the Freeman Water Tank property.

The groups plan to end the court fight to block the sale of the property by the Portland Water Bureau to Lake Oswego developer Renaissance Homes.

“Last month, we filed a lawsuit and motion for preliminary temporary injunction to get a court to intervene and to stop the closing of the sale of the Freeman property,” says Jeremy Solomon, who lives near the water tank property. “The hearing was a few weeks ago (and it) went unfortunately against us. The judge said, ‘Yes, I agree that the city didn’t follow property procedure,’ but he thought that the likelihood of our suit, our argument, winning ultimately ... was not great enough or him to support preliminary injunction. Given that, we have talked a lot ... and especially in light of the costs, we this weekend voted unanimously that we need to motion to dismiss our suit.”

The .76-acre property is the site of the decommissioned Freeman Water Tank in Southwest Portland’s Multnomah neighborhood at 8711 S.W. 42nd Ave., near Freeman Street — a stone’s throw from Woods Memorial Park, from which the Woods Park Advocates, a group of neighbors from Multnomah, Ashcreek and Crestwood, take their name.

Last fall, the Woods Park Advocates formed a subcommittee of the Multnomah Neighborhood Association, enabling them to raise money under the aegis of Southwest Neighborhoods Inc. and hire attorney Kristian S. Roggendorf to represent them in their fight to stop the sale on the grounds that there was insufficient public notice. The Woods Park Advocates have also insisted that selling the property would be a waste of greenspace that might be used by the Portland Parks Bureau.

City Commissioner Nick Fish, who inherited the controversy when he took over the Water Bureau last year, has acknowledged that more should have been done to notify neighbors that the property was for sale, promised to step up the degree of public notice in future sales by the Water Bureau and even offered, on Jan. 16, to enter into mediation with the Woods Park Advocates and Renaissance Homes in hopes of avoiding two potential lawsuits. Renaissance Homes balked at mediation, and on Jan. 28 Roggendorf filed a writ of mandamus in Multnomah County Circuit Court for a preliminary temporary injunction hearing against the city, which took place Feb. 14.

Solomon has been the Woods Park Advocates’ de facto leader since September, when he called the Water Bureau to ask about the planned sale of the Freeman property. He discovered that the City Council had already deemed it surplus and earmarked it for sale in June 2010, and that Renaissance Homes had been in the process of purchasing it for subdivision since late September 2012.

Multnomah Neighborhood Association Chairman Moses Ross has remained optimistic about the neighborhood issue.

“We want to continue to work with Commissioner Fish and the Water Bureau to establish the new policies and to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen in the future, and changes are made for more transparency as commissioner Fish committed to us that he would,” Ross says. “He committed to involving us in that, and so we’re looking forward to that.”

The Multnomah Neighborhood Association intends to take an active role in the pending type II land-use review by the Bureau of Development Services, described.

“We’ve been focusing on making sure that the neighborhoods are being made aware of all the challenges with that particular plot of land ... like the seepage issues,” Ross says.

For now, Ross says, “There are still issues affecting that property that (the Woods Park Advocates) can represent the interests of the neighbors, so there’s no plans to disband in the community.”