Make sure nothing blocks the bike lane, hide that chiller and make the windows bigger. That's the type of thing an architect hears when trying to get something built in Portland.
Alliance Residential Company's latest multifamily development is a 16-story senior living center in the north end of the Pearl District. The Holden of Pearl, as it's known, will be a 226-unit "memory care, assisted living and independent living community," in a neighborhood that is already a retirement destination.
It will be on a bare dirt lot at 1300 N.W. Quimby St. owned by Hoyt St. Properties, which owns a lot of the North Pearl District. It is a tower on podium building, designed to preserve view corridors, particularly the view of Centennial Mills and the Willamette River. The project is slated for completion in 2022. But before that, the designer, Portland's Ankrom Moisan Architecture, has to run the gauntlet of the city's Design Commission.
Ankrom Moisan is no stranger to the area — it designed the adjacent six-story Ramona and Abigail apartment buildings. Much of the feedback the firm got at its first Design Advice Request meeting on Dec. 13, 2018, was about how to make the building fit in, even though there is an empty lot, a park and a railway to the east.
Back then the design commission had several ideas:
They met again on at the Planning and Sustainability building at 1900 S.W. Fourth Ave. on July 11. An architect, Ankrom Moisan principal JP Emery, and Rob Fazio, Principal, Registered Landscape Architect at Fazio Associates, represented the design.
"We've responded, we think, very thoughtfully and carefully to the design commission feedback at previous meetings and worked closely with (you) on (your) issues of concern," said Emery with deference.
The commission is made up of professional architects, and the public was invited to comment. It has a great deal of power to argue with architects and make them stick to the design guidelines. For example, the Pearl District is known for its red brick buildings, such as the Bridgeport Brewery, but most of the buildings recently demolished in the North Pearl were low, concrete warehouses. However, designers seem to love using brick in their Pearl buildings.
The Type Three land use review meeting kicked off at 4.30 p.m. with mention of a letter from the Pearl District Neighborhood association, which is known for being vocal, well-heeled and well-organized.
In this neighborhood, there is a 100-foot maximum height limit in the base zone, but unlimited height can be obtained through the exclusionary housing with the exception of the southeast corner which has a limit of 410 feet due to a view corridor.
When buildings get above 175 feet, their floor plate must shrink to 12,500 square feet, as can be seen at the Metropolitan, a glassy condo tower between The Fields park and Tanner Springs park. There must be a step back from the podium so the tower doesn't dominate the sidewalk.
The ground floor level must be raised three feet off the grade because of the threat of flooding from the Willamette. Commissioners discussed whether passersby could see into the windows, whether the glass would be bird friendly (preventing crashes), and whether there would be rain canopies for pedestrians over the sidewalks.
Commissioner Jessica Molinar of BRIC Architecture went to bat for the public and their right to use the streets and sidewalks.
"I feel very strongly about canopies and providing them for pedestrians. They are really for pedestrians, not as much for the people in the building. They serve the public realm."
The commission noted many details, including the shape of the street bike racks and whether bikes would slip over or not. A back up-generator house had gone back to the drawing board and emerged with a laser etched decorative metal screen to hide it, bearing imagery of Portland watersheds.
Because this type of residential use, assisted living, is considered group living, the development triggers two large type A spaces for gatherings. A modification was requested to reduce one of the A's to a Type B.
Emery talked about the types of brick that would be used, noting their rolled edges and how shadows form on them. The brick pattern facing north and west will be contemporary, with subtle variations, while on the south and east side its will be more uniform and traditional.
Again, the podium will be traditional and the tower contemporary.
Each party was fluent in architect-speak, discussing the "podium language" and the "patterning of fenestration," and issues were dealt with efficiently and quickly.
Emery said a lot of the mechanical stuff that is usually hidden on the highest roof will be on the mezzanine level, on the roof of the podium. After the commissioners spoke, he said, "I think that was good feedback and we are happy to accommodate it and move much mechanical, and kind of Tetris it around until it isn't on the edge."
A large archway was placed because there are others like it in the Pearl, but the commissioners wanted to know what room was behind the apex of the arch, and whether it was group space or individual. They preferred group space. One of their themes is to keep the block active, with lots of people visible.
Jessica Molinar liked that it referred to other buildings in its context. "I also wish that it was deeper, but it meets the guidelines at the depth that it is. And that's okay." It was good enough.
Don't silo seniors
The chair of the Pearl District Neighborhood Association's planning and transportation committee, David Dysert, who works in mortgages, came to the microphone and reinforced that point about activating the street.
"The North Pearl is tricky in terms of activation, it's largely residential and there's not enough foot traffic to support retail. So, we always want as much activation — particularly on 13th Avenue — as we can." He knows retail is limited — many shop fronts remain empty years after completion.
"We understand that senior housing has a very specific program and the memory care issue, with the ground floor open space, can't be open to the public." He said with memory care residents, he would not expect the public to be allowed into the open spaces.
"But the majority of the residents in this building are not memory care, they're more active, folks. So, we want to make sure that there's ample seating in inside and outside the front of 13th Avenue and also all of the open spaces on 12th and Raleigh. Because we really want the residents of the building to interact with the neighborhood. It's not to be a silo."
Dysert wants to move the ramp and stairs to the corner of 13th and Quimby. He added, "We just really want the residents to be able to interact and make this as lively as we can and not have them as shelved inside this building."
Some commissioners were "agnostic" about certain details. Dinner time approached and there was still another review to be held. The pace of discussion, and the level of agreement, increased.
On the issue of canopies, Emery the architect said, "Certainly, if there are still commissioners that feel strongly about the canopies, I think it's pretty clear. We're going to come back with that feature."
One commissioner added that it was a good idea because there would always be "a very vocal minority" demanding them.
There was a long discussion about how Waste Management would collect the trash on the Raleigh street side, next to the Abigail, and whether some bollards could be moved. The architects were negotiating directly with the waste haulers. This is just one of the things architects do on behalf of the client.
All six commissioners gave the thumbs up to the expanded landscaping, which is designed to invite neighbors and tourists to linger, not drive them away.
On the entrances and exits, one commissioner said how the new design was an improvement because they had gotten rid of the porte cochere.
"We can't compare to something that was worse that never happened," retorted another commissioner.
As they wrapped up and the architects gathered their to-do list of further changes — stairs, ramps, canopies, benches — Emery thanked them profusely.
One of the commissioners joked, "You're just your pleasers, you're trying to please everyone! I think you're right." She seemed pleased that it was going so smoothly.
All that was left was to arrange the next meeting at which they will get the seal of approval. All agreed could be as short as half an hour. The commissioners squeezed it into a lunchtime, on Aug. 1, because they already had meetings running to 8.30 p.m. that day.
For Ankrom Moisan, it's back to the drawing board one last time.
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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