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Declining attendance at an urban church with a lot of land leads to a sale...and development

DAVID F. ASHTON - The property on which now stands the Tenth Church of Christ Scientist, at 5736 S.E. 17th Avenue in Westmoreland, has been sold, and is slated to become a large condominium development. Hoping to learn more about what will happen at the Tenth Church of Christ Scientist property – which a developer has purchased to build condominiums – 27 people, including many neighbors, attended the Sellwood Moreland Improvement League (SMILE) Land Use Committee meeting on February 6, at SMILE Station.

Two of the guests were members of church, located just north of the Space Age gas station at 5736 S.E. 17th Avenue – Don Horman, and his wife – and they made it clear they just came to listen, and were not official representatives of their church.

As at many churches, the size of their congregation has dwindled over the years, Horman remarked, in casual conversation before the meeting began. The large church campus requires maintenance that they can't support; and so, given the opportunity, the church leaders decided to sell the property.

DAVID F. ASHTON - Just above SMILE Land Use Committee Chair David Schoellhamers hand, as he annotates a projected map of the project, is shown the space the in which the developer plans to preserve two substantial purple beech trees; the new street is shown just below it. At the meeting's outset, SMILE Land Use Committee Chair David Schoellhamer stated, "Because more than 11 lots are being created [from the one property], there will be a public hearing, which is tentatively scheduled for March 6. How the lots are divided is to be the subject of the hearing; comments must just address the 'Approval Criteria', and other comments we may have are not legally binding in administrative hearing," Schoellhamer admonished.

Those "Approval Criteria" include:

· Lots: R1 density, 15 foot minimum, with four attached homes

· Trees: Preserve 35% of canopy

· Clearing, grading, and land suitability: Minimize grading

· Tracts and easements: Homeowners Association and maintenance agreement for common areas

· Transportation: Adding an extension of S.E. Ramona Street, between 17th and 18th Avenues

Because the distance between the streets to the north and south is great enough, Portland Bureau of Transportation rules require putting in the Ramona Street extension, even though it will divide the condo development into two sections. "Under the existing [land use zoning] rules, the maximum density would be 52 units; however, only 23 units are being proposed by the developer," Schoellhamer said.

Several neighbors voiced sadness that the community would lose the church's parking lot, which is the neighborhood's only designated TriMet "Park & Ride" lot, but others remarked that [since the proposed Harold Street MAX Station had not been built] the lot was currently lightly used.

However, all who voiced an opinion said they were glad to see that the two large purple beech trees near S.E. 17th Avenue would be retained in the commonly-owned condo association tract of land as open space.

Asked if the community will have a say over the design, Schoellhamer responded, "If the [proposed development] were rental units, and not a planned land division, they would be required to get back to us to discuss the actual design of the buildings. "But, because they are doing the land division, this is treated as 23 individual lots. There will be 23 individual building permits, and they do not have to put in affordable housing because this is 23 individual projects, even though some of them share common walls,"

That being said, several committee members chimed in that in the earlier meetings, they had found the developer to have been, and is likely to be, "accommodating and forthcoming" with neighbors.

If the project is approved, it may be as long as two years for construction to begin, as the developer finalizes plans and designs, and obtains permits, Schoellhamer said.


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