by: DAVID F. ASHTON - Gary Richert and Heather Fields stand with cardboard signs, in silent protest in front of a couple of giant houses being built next door to their ranch-style homes in the Reed Neighborhood.Many long-time residents of the Reed Neighborhood say they’re “fed up” with developers cramming in huge “McMansions” among the ranch-style homes on their streets.

“I no longer have sunlight coming into the south side of my house or yard,” said homeowner Heather Fields at 4817 S.E. 36th Place. “I no longer have a view from my windows. I no longer have a private backyard. I no longer can have a vegetable garden in my side yard.”

Fields said she wasn’t concerned about giving her street address, because everyone in the area knows her house. “When I'm out raking leaves, or walking the dog, neighbors referred to what was built next to me as ‘Brontosaurus’ houses,” Fields said.

“Everyone knows that a nice ranch-style house was on a double lot between me and my neighbor, Gary Richert. And now, there are two gigantic, enormous – ‘gi-normous’ –houses packed on the lot they split in two.”

Neighbor Gary Richert, at 4903 S.E. 36th Place, commented, “I'm glad they weren’t built on the south side of my yard. Otherwise, I would never be able to grow tomatoes again in my side yard.”

Taking THE BEE into his once-private back yard, Richert points out how a new house, directly north, towers above his lot.

“The house next door was supposed to have a ‘tuck-under’ garage and basement, built into the hillside,” Richert pointed out. “Instead, the ‘basement’ is a couple feet above the level of my garage – and the house rises two stories above that!”

These aren’t the last out-of-scale houses coming to the neighborhood, Fields asserted. “The builder of these houses, Renaissance Homes, is ratcheting a marketing campaign by sending personal, hand-written letters to older people who own houses on double lots, offering to buy their houses.”

Richert added, “The developer says they are ‘adding value’ to the neighborhood. With this monstrosity towering over my yard, it certainly isn’t increasing the value of my house.”

Neighborhood association holds land use meeting

On April 2, about 80 residents from four neighborhoods gathered in the gymnasium of the Tucker-Maxon School on Holgate Boulevard to discuss infill development of Inner Southeast Portland.

“We’re here to talk about some of the land use issues – specifically, about home demolition and lot-splitting here in our neighborhood,” said Reed Neighborhood Association Land Use Chair Gabe Headrick.

The Reedwood portion of the Reed Neighborhood was developed from the mid-1950s to the 1960s, Headrick said, because homebuyers were looking for larger, suburban-sized lots, yet still wanted to be close in town.

“They're typically 100' x 80' deep, or 100 feet wide by 100 foot deep. Here, the combined double lots are often wider than they are deep, compared to a standard Portland lot.”

There are two portions to Reedwood, Headrick said. “There is the portion that was platted with each house on its own tax map lot. In the other area, some of the homes are on lots that comprise two – some three, or even four – tax lots. That area is designated R7 zoning with a R5 overlay – meaning that houses can be built on smaller lots.”

Headrick pointed to a map that showed a crazy quilt of zoning.

“In 2011, we started working with the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability – rather than us trying to fight the lot-splitting applications, one by one.

“What really needs to happen is that our zoning needs to change. The developers are not breaking the law, technically speaking. They are doing what is allowed by zoning. Therefore, the zoning needs to be changed.”

Because the new version of the Portland Comprehensive Plan hasn’t yet been fully adopted, their neighborhood – and others in the area – hope to have R7 overlays be removed and the neighborhood be designated R5.

“But, because the Comprehensive Plan and its amendments haven't been formalized yet – developers are snapping these properties up, and turning them as quickly as they can,” Headrick said. “We’re hoping that City Hall will make these changes – and start protecting our neighborhoods now.”

Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability Southeast District Liaison Marty Stockton attended the meeting, and spoke with THE BEE.

“We are very aware of, and have been monitoring this issue,” Stockton said. “I'm here to listen and provide any technical expertise as needed.”

Stockton said that organized efforts, such as the ones in the Reed Neighborhood, do make a difference. “We are trying to figure out, within existing city processes, and also within other avenues, how to be proactive. I think the desire is to definitely problem-solve, and find avenues by which we can address these concerns.”

But, while they remain hopeful, many Reed neighbors say they are skeptical that infill development will slow or stop along their previously-quiet streets.

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