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Firms see roadblocks in transportation plan's priorities

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Justin Zeulner, president of the neighborhood business district coalition called Venture Portland, says the draft comprehensive plan update is not business friendly enough.Longstanding tensions between the business community and City Hall surfaced last week during a briefing on the ongoing update of Portland’s comprehensive land-use plan.

The briefing was held March 14 for business leaders by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, which is overseeing the state-required update of the plan that will determine where and how Portland will grow in the future. It is based in large part on the Portland Plan approved by the City Council last year that envisions a series of neighborhood centers throughout the city connected by streets that encourage walking and biking.

After the staff presented an overview of the status of the update, Justin Zeulner, president of the neighborhood business district coalition called Venture Portland, rose to say it was not business-friendly enough.

“This plan has to make a statement to the world. The first page should say we’re going to do everything in our power to retain businesses. The second thing should be, we’re going to do everything we can to create businesses,” said Zeulner, who also serves as the director of sustainability and planning for the Portland Trail Blazers and the Rose Quarter.

Most of the approximately 100 other people who gathered in a conference room in the Mercy Corps headquarters in Old Town seemed to agree. Debbie Kitchin, president of InterWorks construction services company, said she is especially concerned about the city’s proposed transportation priorities, as shown by an inverted pyramid on a display board. The top priority was pedestrians, followed by bicyclists, public transit, freight, carshare, taxis, commercial transportation, and, finally, private automobiles.

“I don’t think that sends the right message to businesses that are dependent on freight deliveries and drive-up customers,” Kitchin said.

Debra Dunn, president of the Oregon Trucking Associations agreed, saying, “How do you expect freight to get to all these neighborhood centers you envision?”

Mary Vogel of the Downtown Neighborhood Association agreed with the priorities, however. She supported more freight deliveries by bicycle to reduce the number of large trucks downtown.

“Bicycle deliveries make the streets safer,” Vogel said.

Bureau staff cautioned against taking any of the displays around the room too literally, saying the plan is still in the drafting stage and will evolve between now and fall, when a proposed version is expected to be released.

“One size doesn’t fit all. The policies must respond to local conditions. Both active transportation (pedestrians and bicyclists) and freight are high priorities,” said Joe Zehnder, the BPS chief planner who led the presentation.

After the meeting, BPS Principal Planner Eric Engstrom told the Portland Tribune that the plan does not call for changing such major freight corridors as Columbia Boulevard, which connects to Portland International Airport. But Engstrom said that some routes through mixed-use areas are becoming overwhelmed with a potentially dangerous mix of pedestrians, bicyclists, private automobile and freight trucks, including Northeast Sandy and Southeast Hawthorne boulevards.

Agreement on zoning

Despite their reservations, many of the business leaders expressed support for some of the concepts in the draft plan, including the creation of a new, permanent zoning classification for large campus institutions, such as colleges and hospitals. Currently, many campus institutions are granted conditional-use permits to operate in residential neighborhoods and commercial districts. Zehnder says this makes it hard for them to adopt long-range plans because the permits can theoretically be revoked in the future.

According to materials distributed at the presentation, more than 584,000 people live in Portland. That number is expected to increase by more than 280,000 people by 2035, when nearly 150,000 additional jobs also are projected.

During the presentation, Zehnder said state land-use planning laws require Portland to prove it can accommodate the new housing and jobs during the next 25 years. Zehnder says planners have not yet identified enough acreage for all the industrial and institutional jobs that are expected to be created.

“We have challenged ourselves to meet those needs,” Zehnder said.

The first draft of the comp plan update is scheduled to be completed by summer. By then, much work also will be completed on a proposed comp plan map, list of proposed significant projects, and a proposed new transportation system plan. At that time, numerous public forums on the second draft will be held throughout the city. The proposed plan will then be reworked and presented to the Planning and Sustainability Commission or hearings and a vote. It is scheduled to go to the council in the summer of 2014 with a final vote to be held that fall.

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