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Move eases Cathedral Park citizens' fears over fate of 'surplus' plot

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: JONATHAN HOUSE - Helen Ost, Barbara Knapp and Jennifer Vitello are North Portland activists who oppose the sale of community gardens.Following complaints from neighborhood activists, Commissioner Nick Fish has put the process for deciding whether to sell a portion of the Johns Community Gardens on hold.

A .46 acre portion owned by the Water Bureau has been posted on the agency’s Surplus Property website, the first step toward selling it. The posting alarmed some gardeners and the board of the Cathedral Park Neighborhood Association, which represents the neighborhood where it is located. The board urged Fish, who is in charge of the Water Bureau, to sell the parcel to Portland Parks & Recreation, which operates the Community Gardens program.

After the Portland Tribune reported the situation on May 26, Fish announced the bureau will stop the process for deciding whether to sell it. According to Fish, the posting only meant the bureau had determined the property was “excess,” meaning it was no longer needed. It cannot be sold unless the City Council formally declares it “surplus,” Fish says.

“The text on the website is not the model of clarity,” Fish says. “We are placing a hold on this particular property in order to address the neighbors’ concerns.”

The news was welcomed by the neighborhood association.

“The Cathedral Park Neighborhood looks forward to engaging in a productive discussion with the city regarding how to ensure the Johns Community Garden remains as an asset for the Cathedral Park Neighborhood,” says Jennifer Vitello, who chairs the safety and livability committee.

The parcel, located at North Edison Street and John Avenue, is one of 19 properties currently posted on the bureau’s website. It is the only one currently being used as a community garden. Five other community gardens are also located on properties owned by the water bureau or the Bureau of Environmental Services, which Fish also overseas. None of them are posted on the Surplus Property website of either bureau.

The websites were created under new policies adopted by both bureaus for disposing of surplus properties. Fish had pushed for the policies after neighbors in Southwest Portland objected to the sale of an unused water tank to a developer by the water bureau in 2013. The property had been advertised only once on Craigslist, and nearby residents felt it should be preserved as open space.

Under the policies, after the council declares a property surplus, it must first be offered to other city bureaus. If no other bureau wants it, the property can then be sold to another party.

It is unclear whether all surplus properties must be sold at market value to other city bureaus. Fish believes that’s the case for properties owned by the water bureau and BES, which are supported primarily by ratepayer funds. He wants more research to be done on the issue before any sales are completed, however.

Another excess water bureau property likely to spark concern is a 2.72-acre tract along Carey Boulevard above the railroad tracks in North Portland. It is a park-like buffer between the tracks and nearby housing that is along a popular walking trail. Some users are already raising questions about it being posted.

“This attractive green space is utilized by many trail users and neighborhood folks as a quiet place to relax amid the mature trees,” says Howard Harrington.

“Regardless of the outcome of this debate, I am pleased that our new policy is surfacing neighborhood concerns before we take any action to actually sell the property,” says Fish, who describes himself as a big supporter of the Community Gardens program.

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