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Ankeny Apartments: Fourth time's the charm
The Ankeny Apartments, Portland's first design commission denial in living memory, has officially been to the City Council for the fourth time, after five design reviews and numerous design renditions.
The City Council unanimously approved the new designs 4-0. Commissioner Dan Saltzman was absent.
The development at the property at 1122 S.E. Ankeny St. beginning with a pre-application conference held February 2016, has seen a drawn-out effort by the team, city staff, commissioners and councilors. Next came the design review application and five design commission hearings, ending with the denial.
The Ankeny team appealed to City Council, and on Wednesday Aug. 9 came the fourth City Council hearing. The Ankeny team will come back with revised findings, but the decision is expected to be formally approved Aug. 31st at 3 p.m.
"There's been a considerable amount of time going back and forth on this, and it is coming to a very solid and amicable solution," said Mayor Ted Wheeler. "It feels like we've made slow progress at every one of these four hearings…until then, the appeal is granted."
Grace Jeffreys, architect and planner with the City of Portland, updated the Council on design changes that address the commission's and council's recommendations.
"The Design Review found the proposal did not meet applicable material. Seven guidelines were cited as not being met," Jeffreys said at the hearing. "In the final findings, the design commission identified three major aspects that did not meet guidelines: massing, scale and bulk of side walls; the impact of the open stairwell on adjacent properties; and metal cladding."
The last City Council hearing was held June 21, where the council was presented with revisions for a four-foot setback, a slightly reduced height and the addition of wood siding.
"The Council still had several concerns including contextual response on the north and east property sides, the impact of noise and light on stairwells on adjacent residents, the impact on adjacent properties and cladding on zero lot-line walls," Jeffreys said. "Further revision has been submitted to the BDS staff."
The new designs show stained cedar siding, which provides a more durable residential feel in context with the neighborhood.
"It addressed the concerns of the impact of construction on neighbors, illustrates how construction can occur without imposing and switch to a less impactful situation construction might have on these adjacent structures," Jeffreys said.
The development team offered the neighbors evaluations to document existing structural conditions before, during and after construction, as well as full construction documents to the council.
"Several changes were made to stairwells, including moving the elevator shaft and adding open walkways on upper floors," Jeffreys said. "Stairwells were placed behind the properties to address concerns about impact, lighting and noise. The extent of these open areas increased. These walkways are set back from the property line 12 feet. New screening has not been added to stairwells to preserve the passage of natural light, desired by neighbors."
Development team changes
Tim Ramis, partner at Jordan Ramis PC, represented legal counsel for the Ankeny project's development team.
"When we last met, we were left with three fundamental questions to respond to, and what our objective here today is to let you know where we are today. The first was, can you do something to soften this project's effect on the properties to the north? The answer is yes," Ramis said. "Essentially this project has moved from being a zero lot-line project to one that has setbacks. That distinction lets us address maintenance and construction issues that were being raised."
That solution resulted in added windows and separation from the properties next door, keeping the historic eight-foot separation between structures that's typical in the neighborhood.
"The second question was are you going to be able to build without encroachment?" Ramis said. "Yes, the construction document describes how it would be done."
The key aspect of the construction documents is that there will be no pile driving, a technique that raised concerns about the safety of the neighbors' foundations. Instead, the Ankeny team will use the Auger system, which drills a hole in the ground and injects concrete inside.
The City Councilors did not like how much time has been spent putting this project through the wringer.
"This is the first land use appeals hearing I got to sit in on. It feels like that was eons ago and as fascinating as it's been, I'm really glad it's almost concluded," Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said. "I don't think either side got everything they want, maybe that's the best we can hope for in this process, I appreciate everybody's input and willingness to address our concerns."
Commissioner Amanda Fritz said the Bureau of Development Services staff wasn't compensated enough for every step of the way.
"I hope that when future applications go to the design commission, things will get resolved there before five times. This is not the best use of the council's time or your time either," Fritz said. "I appreciate (the neighbors) having been responded to at the end, it would have been better to respond to them at the beginning."
Commissioner Nick Fish agreed, saying he'd prefer the bulk of the design work to be done at administrative levels, as the system was envisioned.
"I think the final result is pretty terrific and if this is built to specification I think it's going to be an asset to the community and I love that you're setting the bar so high in energy efficiency," Fish said. "There is this opportunity to appeal to this body, but given the amount of cranes in the air and applicants pending before the BDS it's probably unsustainable for us to be spending this much time, just as I'm sure the applicant in this case is looking forward to not returning to City Hall in the future and focusing on his business."
Sit-down with Crowell
The Business Tribune sat down with Landon Crowell ahead of the last City Council meeting.
Crowell owns five rental houses and manages some other properties for other people as well, along with his consulting work and beautician work teaching hairdressing at the salon he owns on the property he will soon be developing.
"Ultimately the design review led us around in circles. The design review has ethics violations that they can't objectively serve," Crowell said.
His location is in a very desirable neighborhood for developments right now in the Central Eastside, north of the new Goat Blocks.
Design Commissioner Don Vallaster is principal at Vallaster Corl Architects, a firm working on Burnside Delta and Lower Burnside Lofts, just blocks from the Ankeny site.
"Design review did run us around. They lack clarity," Crowell said. "You cannot have design review members voting on projects in the same district that they're doing projects on. To not provide clear direction is getting away from your mandate."
Design Commissioner Sam Rodriguez is senior managing director at Mill Creek Trust, and its projects Modera Buckman and Modera Glisan, both already through approval, are located near the Ankeny project.
"Now we have to ask ourselves, what is the motivation behind a complete denial?" Crowell said. "It's an ethics violation to have people who are actively working on projects in the same neighborhood as you're putting a project up — that is a conflict, an ethics violation."
Design Commissioner Julie Livingston is project manager for Home Forward, and its project Block 45 in the Lloyd was approved by the design commission in March.
"The benefit of doing this project: I do believe in climate change and the effects of climate change," Crowell said. "I also believe young men and women that are not just Black but all young men and women who feel marginalized deserve a better chance, and a chance to see someone other than these big people you never make contact with make it. The best way to make the world better is to start with myself."
According to the NAACP, more than half of Black men living in inner cities do not finish college. About 72 percent of the dropouts are jobless in their 20s. About 80 percent of Black people have a high school degree, and only 17 percent have a bachelor's — in Oregon, the average is 31 percent of people have bachelor's degrees.
According to the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, 30 of every 100 white kindergarteners go on to graduate from college, while 16 of every 100 Black kindergarteners earn bachelor's degrees. Only 9.1 percent of college degrees are awarded to Black people.
Crowell sent his own kids to private school, and one is now a chemical engineer.
"That's from breaking those cycles," Crowell said. "But if you're down here with statistics against you, it's hard to come up."
After feeling he wasn't being heard or helped by local departments, Crowell filed a federal Fair Housing complaint against the City this spring, but the legal process of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) takes time and research. HUD reached out to the City in June, who responded they wanted to agree to a settlement. The terms of the settlement haven't moved forward or been defined.
"They asked what did I want? I said you cost me a lot of money, so I want to be compensated for that," Crowell said. "There's also the value of construction escalation cost, and the value of actually giving up the floor."
He feels his building has been chopped to pieces, losing entire chunks of square footage throughout the design process.
"Many a time ... buildings start out as basically squares or rectangles and design review oftentimes will go in and carve out pieces of the building, creating stepdowns. They said it creates a better transition. In theory, yeah. In reality, you're taking that property owner's property use rights, it's a Fifth Amendment violation and it's never been challenged," Crowell said. "Much the same as if I needed easement to swing a crane over the top, I have to pay for easement because that's their air space, so I have to pay for air space, but design review can chop out these buildings, and alter the shape and the actual minimal square feet of that building, making that a condition because the property owner acquiesces to get the project through."
In the end, Ankeny's apartment units along 12th Avenue are much narrower, cut down in square footage from 1,100 to 900, and smaller on the higher floors, because Crowell kept the net-zero aspect in the plans all along.