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Blocking vandals should get a little easier for downtown businesses with a recent city council decision.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Portland's Apple store at Pioneer Place in mid February, before steel fences were revealed. The store reopened in early March for pick up and service, but not for in-store browsing. A new, temporary city rule makes it easier to get permits for security fences, gates and floodlights. The Portland City Council voted Wednesday, March 3, to expedite permits for businesses who want to protect their storefronts with security lighting and gates.

City preservationists, however, objected to the change, saying it would put tourists off.

The Apple store reopened recently with a fearsome steel fence protecting its floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The glass was cracked multiple times in a riot on May 29, 2020, and remained a hazard until recently.

Commissioner Dan Ryan and Mayor Ted Wheeler were behind the new rule. Currently, design review of such changes can take months. BDS is operating remotely because of COVID-19 and short staffing, and the architectural lobby is strong.

The rule would only apply during the city's current COVID-19 state of emergency.

Mayor Wheeler, who is widely blamed for allowing vandals and homeless people to scare away visitors from downtown, said, "We need to have our major employers and our major retailers and those that make the wheels turn have confidence that this is still a place to do business."

According to Willamette Week Pioneer Place wanted new security gates, but owners were told approval would take three months.

Commissioner Ryan said before the vote, "This ordinance will support all businesses in commercial districts with design overlay zones as they seek to expediently secure their buildings and fully reopen for business."

The ordinance has limits. Floodlights will still have to down at the ground, not outward, and fences and gates should be close to transparent. Historic landmarks will still have to go through the formal review.

Shops such as the Apple store have become crucial to downtown. It has become a place of pilgrimage for out-of-state tourists. They load up on electronics there, saving the usual 6-10% sales tax they would pay at home. The steps and light-filled design have made it something of a meeting place.

Members of the city's historic landmark commission and design review commission and spoke out against the ordinance, saying it would encourage bad design, and the fences might stay up long after the pandemic emergency is over.

Kristen Minor, the Historic Landmarks Commission chair, said, "We ask that you abandon this ill-conceived strategy."


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