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New rules on surplus holdings include more public notice

Following the controversial sale of surplus Water Bureau property in Southwest Portland for residential development, the Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services have developed new policies for disposing of properties they no longer need.

The new policies are especially important because BES, which operates the sewer system, soon will begin selling many of the properties it bought for staging areas during the construction of the $1.4 billion Big Pipe project.

Commissioner Nick Fish, who is in charge of both bureaus, will brief the City Council on the new policies on Wednesday. They include far more public notification of the sales than had been required when the Water Bureau sold a decommissioned water tank to Renaissance Homes.

“The community in Southwest Portland raised legitimate concerns about that sale and were very helpful in developing the new policies,” Fish said.

The sale, which had only been advertised with a single posting on Craigslist, sparked protests from neighbors who opposed the developer’s plan to demolish the tank and build three house on the wooded parcel. Renaissance paid $140,000 for the .72-acre parcel, which neighbors thought was far below its market value.

Fish, who was assigned the bureau after the property was sold, said his hands were tied because the sales contact was legally binding. The Water Bureau is currently moving a fire hydrant there, which could allow development to begin soon.

The new policies require the directors of each bureau and the commissioner in charge of them to ask the council to designate properties as surplus. Other city agencies then must be notified that the properties are available and given the opportunity to acquire them. If they decline, the properties will be offered to Metro, the elected regional government, and the state of Oregon.

If no agencies want them, the city council must approve them for sale. Neighborhood and business associations in the surrounding areas also must be notified of the potential sales. More public advertising is required if the sales proceed. And both bureaus will have websites that list all surplus properties to be sold.

The council briefing is expected to include examples of how the new policies are working. The Bureau of lnternal Business Services also is working on a citywide surplus property sale policy.

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