Southwest neighbors fight infill housing plan
The future of a controversial residential infill project that pits neighbors against a prominent developer in outer Southwest Portland is scheduled to be decided by the City Council on Aug. 9.
The decision comes as the council is feeling pressure to allow more housing to be built to accommodate all income levels. Portland is expected to attract 260,000 more people by 2035.
Everett Homes is proposing to build 11 houses on a 2.3-acre privately owned parcel between two dead ends of Southwest Pendleton Avenue. A 90-year-old single-family home sits on one corner of the property. The rest is covered with trees and brush, including a wetland portion protected by an environmental conservation overlay zone.
"We're really excited by the project. Hayhurst is a great neighborhood with a lot of amenities, like good schools and nearby parks. We're glad to be able to give 11 families the opportunity to live there," says Everett owner Vic Remmers.
The Hayhurst Neighborhood Association that represents the area objects to much of Remmers' plan, saying it would result in the loss of too much habitat, including 100 trees, and that it would potentially flood adjacent properties. The association also says the additional traffic generated by the residents of the homes would threaten children who walk to and from the nearby Hayhurst Elementary School.
Big change for neighborhood
"The development will completely change the character of the neighborhood, which is quiet and rural, with small houses on large lots. It will be a lot more urban and the houses will be much more expensive," says Bryanna Hurwitz. She is chairwoman of the neighborhood association's land-use committee but was speaking on behalf of an opposition groups, Save Pendleton Creek Woods, named after a creek that originates on the property.
According to Remmers, each home would be between 2,500 and 3,500 square feet and sell for between $700,000 and $800,000 if they were on the market today. However, they could not be completed for another year at the soonest.
As part of the project, called the Everett Heights Subdivision, a new street connecting the two ends of Pendleton would be built, creating a through street that could be reached by Southwest 45th Avenue to the east and Southwest Cameron Road to the north. A slope on the site would be raised 17 feet in some areas. The house would be demolished but the portion of the wetland in the overlay zone would stay protected.
Remmers says that because of the size of the property, the project represents a rare opportunity to build a community of related homes within city limits. Although his company has built other homes in outer Southwest Portland in recent years, they have been infill projects of two houses at most.
Meets city codes
After the proposal was approved by the Bureau of Development Services, the neighborhood association filed an appeal, as allowed by state and city land-use policies. City hearings officer Joe Turner heard it on March 8. An Everett representative said the proposal complies with all city codes for such developments, including having a stormwater management system that meets city requirements. He said connecting Pendleton is a Portland Bureau of Transportation requirement for such projects, which would include planting new trees to compensate for those that will be cut.
The association disagreed, arguing PBOT can waive the street connection requirement because of the steep terrain and presence of so many trees. At the same time, it presented an alternative development plan that would allow six homes on the site.
Hurwitz also notes the site is in a landslide zone, and two properties within one-half mile have been damaged by slides in the past 21 years. In 1996, a landslide just west of Southwest 42nd on Southwest Cullen shut down a street that remains closed. The most recent one occurred on Nov. 24, 2016, damaging an apartment building at 4344 Fairvale Drive so heavily that it had to be evacuated. It was perched on a slope that is steeper than those in the area proposed for development, however.
Despite the objections, Turner ruled the proposal complies with city codes and approved the original 11-house plan following the hearing. The association appealed the decision to the council, as allowed by the land-use policies.
The council heard the appeal on June 22, with both sides repeating and amplifying on the points made to Turner. The council members asked many questions to better understand the complex zoning and code issues, including whether the water on the property comes from springs, seeps or aquifers.
"The council was very engaged," Hurwitz says.
On July 3, BDS sent each council member a packet of information on the potential development. It included existing and proposed drainage pattern maps, an aerial photograph of the vicinity, a map showing environmental zones and streams, and selected site plans.
The packet also included the most recent Safe Routes for Schools map for Hayhurst Elementary School, dated February 2017. Neighbors noted it did not include several routes from previous maps in the area of the proposed development. The Portland Bureau of Transportation, which puts the maps together with neighborhood input, told the council on July 11 that the new map was flawed. PBOT told the council to use the 2014 map that included the previous routes, including Southwest 48th Avenue.
After the council makes its decision, either side can challenge it before the state Land Use Board of Appeals.
Everett owner Vic Remmers is well known at City Hall. He is a member of the Residental Infill Project Stakeholders Advisory Group, which is working on the details of the so-called missing-middle housing policy approved by the council last year. He contributed to both Ted Wheeler and Jules Bailey when they ran against each other for mayor in 2016, and to former city Commissioner Steve Novick in 2014.
The fight is typical of residential infill disputes in outer Southwest Portland. While residents of inner neighborhoods routinely object to individual older homes being demolished and replaced with larger ones, such projects in outer Southwest Portland frequently involve clusters of homes built on relatively large wooded parcels.
For example, Commissioner Nick Fish was criticized by Southwest Portland residents several years ago after the Portland Water Bureau, which he oversees, sold an unused surplus water storage tank to a different developer, who plans to build three homes on the site. A group called Livable PDX is also fighting a proposed 23-unit subdivision called Macadam Ridge in a wooded area near Southwest Hume and Ruby Terrace, west of the Riverview Abbey Mausoleum.
Many Southwest Portland residents also complained about a five-story apartment building being built in the small Multnomah Village retail district. And they have filed a legal challenge to the so-called missing-middle housing policy in the state-required Comprehensive Plan update approved by the council last year. That appeal is pending at the state Department of Land Conservation and Development, which must either approve the update or send it back to the council for more work.