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Welby, a 15 story wooden apartment block, should do better than the last CLT project, Framework.

COURTESY: BORA ARCHTIECTS - The Welby as Bora Architects sees it, will take up half a block near Safeway in the Pearl District, and include market rate and affordable apartments.

The Pearl District will have a mass timber tower, after all. Developer Killian Pacific is planning a 15-story wooden building at 1325 N.W. Kearney St. called Welby.

The half-block site will be home to a mixed-use building. The first floor will be retail, the next two floors office space, and the remaining 12 floors will be apartments.

The plans went before the Portland Design Commission on Nov. 5, although the renderings circulating on social media were not the right ones.

The Bureau of Development Services now says the Killian Pacific/ Bora Architects project, which is worth $85 million, will include affordable housing, as per the law in 2020.

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - This building at the corner of Northwest Kearney Street and 13th Avenue will soon be the home to the Pearl District's first mass timber building, the Welby.

Loading bar: 25 percent

Bora Architects is designing the building, and Chris Linn, a partner there, says the design is about 25% complete so far. Linn said the neighborhood association and the Design Commission had made their feelings known, and his team is taking a few weeks to make it a better "contextual fit."

The height and bulk of the building will remain the same. It will take up the southern half of the block, the site of the On Deck sports bar, which is closed, and Title Nine sportswear.

"We may simplify some of the setbacks and increase them, and we may use different materials, simplify the windows, and have a continuous pedestrian (rain) canopy on three sides," Linn told the Business Tribune. He added that the configurations of the windows would probably be simplified.

"But it will still be mass timber," he added. They will use laminated wood for the columns, but the material for the horizontal members has not been decided yet. The floors will be either regular old mass plywood or the more modern cross-laminated timber, layers of two-by-sixes pressed and glued together. In any case, the neighbors and the Design Commission won't have any input on the inside of the building.

Linn said Killian Pacific prefers mass timber. "It's driven primarily by their sustainable agenda, having that as a really low carbon structural solution. As that industry has matured, it's become much more cost-competitive with concrete."

Weeks to months

The changes are a couple of weeks' work, and then they will hold another DAR (Design Advice Review) with the commission and neighbors in December or January. A DAR is an informal meeting to keep the design on track with stakeholders before investing more time and money in ideas that will be rejected. The commission makes no binding decisions at a DAR.

Killian Pacific is has pledged to have affordable housing on the site instead of finding ways around the law or paying a financial penalty.

"They're doing that on an on a voluntary basis, which is pretty unusual. But it's for their values," said Linn.

When the design gets to 50%, Bora will apply for the formal design review. Then if it's approved, they finish all the documents.

Linn said outreach to the neighborhood has been effective.

"I think we have a pretty clear idea now of what their opinion is and what they're looking for. So, we just need to need to draw it, figure it out and present it in a cohesive way."

The looming tower

He is sure Welby will fare better than the Pearl's last high-profile CLT effort. Framework, a 12-story high rise in the Pearl District to be made out of CLT, was designed by LEVER Architecture and for developer project^, at the corner of Northwest 10th Avenue and Glisan Street where the abandoned Albina Community Bank was. That 2016 project finally died in 2019 due to complications in financing.

Linn says the industry learned a lot from the failed Framework project. They were early in the mass timber supply chain, so there weren't many sources of the material and know-how to build it. And it was a quarter block project, which is more expensive than a larger one like Welby.

"They were on the leading edge. And most significantly, the Oregon code is much more friendly now to construction. That project really set a lot of groundwork and made it easier for projects like ours to get through. Even though that wasn't built, I think there's a lot of success from that project."

Michi Slick, the director of development at Killian Pacific, said they chose mass timber for its environmental impact.

PHOTO: CHELSEA ROOKLYN - Michi Slick, the director of development at Killian Pacific, said they chose mass timber for the Welby apartments for its environmental impact.

"The vast majority of our projects in development are mass timber because it embodies carbon rather than release into the atmosphere," she told the Business Tribune. "Our study shows that the Welby will save as much carbon as 1,000 cars for a year or 500 homes."

Killian Pacific is a buy-and-hold developer, not a buy-and-flip. She said they are happy that the tenants on the north side of the block, which will not be demolished, are locked into leases. These include Basics Market, a new kind of gourmet food market from a New Seasons alum, and Nossa Familia coffee.

The firm chose mostly housing for this location to diversify their holdings, feeling it was a better long term bet than more office space.

"The Pearl is still a great neighborhood, very walkable, so doing residential was a no brainer."

As per the City's intentions, the affordable units will be blended into the market-rate units to form a community.

"We are focusing on larger units, two- to three-bedroom units, rather than studios and ones. The entire unit mix is geared toward larger, more established renters, such as families, empty nesters and millennials looking to settle down."


Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
971-204-7874
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