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Neighbors say city's water tank land deal might not be legal

by: COURTESY OF ALVARO FONTAN - An aerial view shows the Freeman water tank site in the Southwest Portland neighborhood. Just two weeks before the final closing date of the sale of the Freeman water tank property to Renaissance Homes, Water Commissioner Nick Fish is offering the Southwest Portland neighbors who oppose the sale another alternative — mediation — and the neighbors have agreed.

“They’re glad that Commissioner Fish recognized that there’s some real problems, and we’re going to participate in mediation provided that the sale does not go through in the meantime,” says Kristian S. Roggendorf, an attorney hired by the opponents.

At the same time, Fish says the city still has a legal contract to sell the property to Renaissance.

“I’ve inherited what I’m told is a binding contract to sell this property,” says Fish, who was assigned the Water Bureau after the contract was signed.

Neighbors and others have spent the past five months organizing increasingly vocal opposition to the sale of the .76-acre property and the decommissioned Freeman water tank on it. In December, they hired Roggendorf, who sent Fish a letter arguing the sale violated state laws and city policies governing property sales.

Fish responded, via a letter from Portland Deputy City Attorney Terence L. Thatcher, that he would put the sale on hold. He proposed that the Water Bureau enter into three-way mediation with the opponents and Renaissance, and asked Renaissance to “agree to delay the sale closing date and that the neighbors agree to postpone any legal action until we have given medication a chance to work.”

“It’s a negotiation among the parties with a neutral facilitator who has no vested interest other than seeing if he or she can shape an agreement that everyone can sign on to,” Fish says.

by: COURTESY OF ALVARO FONTAN - Neighbors of the Freeman water tank site have signs in their front yards opposing a city plan to sell the property to a developer.Groups opposing the sale include the nearby Ashcreek and Crestwood neighborhood associations, Friends of Wood Park, and Oregon Wild. Fish says the size of the opposition to the Freeman sale has been vastly overestimated, and actually consists of a very small group of immediate neighbors who, whatever they say, would still not be satisfied if the property were ever to be sold, no matter how aboveboard the sale process.

“I don’t view this as much of a movement,” he says. “This is a six-tenths-of-an-acre piece of property that has some neighbors concerned about the way the city has disposed of it. I treat all concerns that have come to my attention the same, and that’s why we’re going to get a mediator.

“At the end of the day we’re going to do things that not everybody agrees with, but in leadership, it’s not always a popularity contest. Sometimes, we have to do the right thing.”

Roggendorf insists the sale is illegal, however. Among other things, his letter says the city failed to provide adequate public notice about the ordinance approved by the City Council declaring the Freeman property surplus and subsequently agreeing to sell it to Renaissance Homes for infill development in late September 2012. The letter also says the sale violates Portland’s City Charter, city codes and state law.

Fish holds that the level of public notice technically satisfied the terms of the City Council ordinance that authorized the sale, though he has agreed that more public notice should have been provided and will be in the future.

“I have listened carefully to the concerns that have been raised, and I have taken immediate action to make sure in future sales of surplus property we’ll do a better job of providing public notice,” Fish says. “That’s important to me.”

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