What would have been the seventh multi-family net-zero apartment building in the nation was denied by the Design Commission in late February after five rounds of design review.
This, despite the city staff recommending approval by the third review — costing the developer $160,000 in additional fees.
Denials are uncommon.
"Almost, if not every, Type III design review application is approved, or approved with conditions," said Kara Fioravanti, supervising planner of the design and historic review team with the Bureau of Development Services. "I've been part of the design review team since 1997 and cannot recall a denial from the Design Commission."
However, the Jupiter Hotel last year did appeal to city council the Design Commission's decision to approve their expansion project with the modification to change asphalt material to metal. The city council overturned the modification and the Jupiter Hotel is under construction as planned.
The designs for Ankeny Apartments, located at 1122 S.E. Ankeny St., included a six-floor, 18-unit residential building with a retail shop on the ground floor — originally planned to be 26 units, it was cut down during the design review process.
In the initial proposal for the Ankeny Apartments, filed Sept. 30, 2016, plans for the building were in the shape of an L on a 5,380 square foot site. Inside the L-shape sit two single-family Queen Anne-style homes, one home to Mindworks psychologist.
The ground floor contained retail, and a one-way parking garage looped beneath the building, holding three parking spaces and 15 bike parking spots.
Materials included honed CMU, steel plate, flat-lock metal panels, board-on-board cedar, cable mesh, wood and aluminum-clad windows, metal doors and solar panels.
With the innovative slanted south wall design, Ankeny Apartments would have produced 20 percent more power than its projected needs.
The developer Landon Crowell feels like his project was treated differently than others in the area, and doesn't understand why.
Now, he is heading to the City Council on April 12 to appeal the denial decision and has hired a lawyer, Christe White of Radler White, in case things go south — in which case, he plans to file against the city under Title 8 Civil Rights.
"The property I own — my parents lived here (in Portland), and no Blacks were allowed in Overland — when I bought the property, my dad was like oh my God, this is amazing," Crowell said. "I will tell you at this level, it's not different. It is an invitation-only club, and guys like me like to kick doors open. And Portland has not changed."
"The city works very hard to get a yes on applications, and works with applicants to identify chnages that need to be made to a project to meet the design review approval criteria," Fioravanti said. "In this case, although strongly encouraged by staff during early meetings and discussions dating back to more than a year ago, the applicant didn't utilize the (design advice request) and just applied for the design review."
Taking the project through the zoning guidelines, city staff found the stairwell lights internal to the block would be too visible to the adjacent single-family homes. Also, the massing was a problem: it needed to respect the Portland block structures and adjacent residential neighborhoods.
"On this particular block, the Southeast 12th Street frontage contains five original, two-story residences. And while the small size of this infill lot provides the opportunity to maintain this smaller-scaled urban texture, the proposed six-story height is very much out of character with the adjacent two-story residential and one-story industrial buildings on the remainder of the block," the staff report read. "With contextual reductions in height, especially along Southeast 12th, the massing could provide a more respectful response to adjacent existing development."
Cited reasons for the denial included that the plans had the building built too tight to the property lines, and should have contextual setbacks. However, Mt. Tabor Brewing on the southwest corner of the block is also built to the property lines up against the houses. It has no plazas or public space, but does have a surface parking lot.
City staff also said the large, flat side walls will be visible and need greater attention to their aesthetics.
"The Design Commission sees the houses next to me as single-family homes. They are EXd zoned property that people live in — that is equivalent to living in this coffeeshop that's not zoned commercial," Crowell said. "It's not a residence, it's EXd, it means you can do anything, but it does not give you the same protections as a residential zoning. EXd says somebody can build right next to you, anything they want to up to 95 feet high."
Ultimately, the final conclusion was that the fundamental challenges of scale, massing and compatibility were not addressed because the changes made were too modest to meet the approval criteria — mostly because of the neighboring homes.
The final report concluded, "Due to the lack of substantive changes to the massing, scale and bulk of the sidewalls, the open stairwells and the extent of metal cladding, the Commission found that the following guidelines are not yet met:" respect adjacent residential neighborhoods; complement the context of existing buildings and design for coherency.
"In the end, it was the applicant's choice to ask them for a decision, which he knew would be a denial," Fioravanti said. "Even at the early stage with the pre-application conference, they were provided with this information including the issues of massing and compatibility along Southeast 12th Avenue."
Landon Crowell, the developer of Ankeny Apartments, grew up in Portland, attended Benson High and has owned properties around Portland for 30 years. He's been working on the Ankeny designs for two years, and has owned the property for 12. Crowell's parents had rentals, and he grew up helping fix them up.
"I had my first house at 18, I bought it on contract," Crowell said. "In North and Northeast Portland in the '80s and '90s we had a lot of drug houses.I bought a lot of drug houses and rehabbed them — that's how I made money."
As for Ankeny Apartments, Crowell initially started out trying to build affordable housing near the end of 2014.
"That was a bit of a nightmare too, just trying to work through the city's maze to figure out how their system worked," Crowell said. "I could never get anywhere with the city in 2015, so I made a couple of addresses to city council and indited them for their lack of support of people of color. I was totally dismissed by the Portland Housing Bureau and immediately Dan Saltzman tells his aid to set up a meeting for me, and then I was on the list. It takes awhile to get anything good done here, this should not take a whole year."
He was able to secure funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as from the Portland Development Commission.
"That's only because this is a green project. If I wasn't doing green, I'm sorry, they'd kick me out of the room," Crowell said. "My costs are about $110,000 including legal fees, going back and forth the last 11 months just for Design Commission re-work, that's to architecture fees — I spent $160,000 in additional fees."
"All my developers, my partners, it's a total minority development group," Crowell said. "They've partnered with me, we believe in making the environment better, net zero, all these things. We put all our money in there, so for us, it's all or nothing."
Crowell had to redesign for five design reviews, showing up with three alternatives on the final day.
"At design review five, we get thrown right out of the park," Crowell said. "Plan district guidelines say you can build up to 95 feet. Next year's guidelines will say you can build up to 125 feet. We're 30 percent under, we have shrunk our building to accommodate them. My attorney says 'Look, you're violating his entitlement, the law says he can build there and you're saying he can't.'"
His lawyer White's main arguments are that the Design Commission's premise for denial was willful and malicious because they used the wrong guidelines — namely, the design overlay guidelines prioritized over the central employment zone.
The rest of the arguments include difficulties with the City and complaint process, denial of entitlement of property rights, Civil Rights violation and protected class status.
"I wasn't justly served, I didn't get my money's worth in the city process. I paid $32,000 for design review and I still haven't got a project, they didn't give me any guidelines," Crowell said. "Then, the complaint to the Bureau of Development Services, then the Office of Equity, and I see this heading off the rails. Nobody can do anything. Personally, I want my money back."
Look for the second installment of this two-part series in the March 24 edition of the Business Tribune.
1122 S.E. Ankeny St.
Developer: Landon Crowell
Designer: YGH Architects
Engineer: KPFF Consulting
Energy Modeling: Glumac