Developers present 'Woodstock Modera' apartment block plans
Plans for the "Woodstock Modera" apartment building – a full-block, five-story development proposed to be built where The Joinery now sits – attracted close scrutiny and criticism from many who attended the developers' presentation on Thursday evening, April 11. Held in the Parish Hall of All Saints' Episcopal Church on Woodstock Boulevard, the meeting was required by the city, and facilitated by the Woodstock Neighborhood Association (WNA). Outreach efforts of an ad hoc group calling itself "Keep Woodstock Wonderful", and local KOIN-TV coverage of the event, contributed to the turnout of a standing-room-only crowd of over 200 neighbors.
The meeting was called to order at 7:10 p.m. WNA Chair Sage Jensen reviewed the agenda, then announced the WNA's upcoming board election (Wednesday, June 5: "Every seat is open!") and plant sale (Saturday, May 11), before introducing WNA Land Use Committee Co-chair Thatch Moyle, who provided an overview of the development process, and ticked off a few project details revealed in the City of Portland's pre-application conference in early March. Mentioning his own urban planning background, Moyle underlined the WNA's interest in helping decipher and translate the plans as they develop, and in conveying new information about the project as it becomes available, in order to keep the process as transparent as possible.
He explained that the evening's meeting was required by city code, and that this would likely be the only open forum opportunity for the neighborhood to provide feedback, as no further public design review is required by the city for the project. He referenced the "by right" nature of the development – the fact that city zoning does allow what the developers have proposed.
First to speak was Cassidy Bolger, a Development Associate with Mill Creek Residential, which he described as a "vertically integrated company". According to its website, Mill Creek is an investment company specializing in large, mixed-use apartment projects which they develop, build, acquire and operate.
Bolger is part of Mill Creek's local Portland team, which has an office in Northwest Portland, and he stressed that he is a Southeast neighbor, residing in Portland's Hawthorne district.
Robert Leeb introduced himself as the lead architect on the project. He said Leeb Architects has a working history with Mill Creek Residential, "a company known for its high quality, award-winning projects". This team has developed several apartment buildings in Portland already; a slide of some of Mill Creek's other projects appeared on the screen. While acknowledging the site's accommodation of a "very large building" that would unquestionably bring more people and more business, Leeb promised they would try, "to the best of our ability, to make this the best possible project for the neighborhood."
He described some of the project's planned features: Seven thousand square feet of commercial space, enough for 6 to 8 shops; an exercise facility on the north side; underground parking for up to 120 cars, 12 motorcycles, and 195 bikes, with the entrance on the structure's west side; an interior courtyard and rooftop deck for residents. Whether the entirety of the Martins Street block would be paved, with an optional curb added on the south side as suggested by PBOT, was still up in the air.
Leeb reported they are now looking at "up to 195 units", and an overall 50-foot height, instead of the 45-feet originally proposed in the pre-app meeting. That change is made possible by a bonus the city offers, in return for including a taller retail space on the first floor. He reiterated that the numbers were still in flux, as they had just started working on design and scale.
After this brief presentation, Sage Jensen opened the meeting to public comment. She asked those who would speak to convey, in their comments, not just the things they didn't like about the plan, but also what would be acceptable to them.
One of the first questions, posed by a man who lives twelve blocks south of Woodstock Boulevard, was whether one of the houses they expected to deconstruct could instead be moved to his empty lot. Bolger answered that it probably could, and the two exchanged business cards.
Then at least forty Woodstock neighbors, young and old, got up to give feedback and question the developers. One major concern was scale. Many commenters expressed opinions that the size of the proposed building was just "way too big" and out of character with Woodstock. Some suggested the developers needed to more carefully consider context and others pleaded with them to "scale it down".
One woman wondered how much heat and light the building would emanate; another asserted the tall apartment building would mean loss of privacy for nearby homes. A common trepidation centered around the idea of so many people being added into this small-town neighborhood all at once.
Many people expressed dismay and aggravation toward the city for allowing full-block CM2 zoning, which they felt to be inappropriate for Woodstock. Those who took part in the neighborhood's 2014 Charrette process recalled keypad voting that favored a lower profile main street for Woodstock, with building heights capped at 35 feet instead of 45, and softer transitions between large mixed-use buildings and the residential neighborhoods they bordered.
A number of nearby neighbors also expressed quality-of-life concerns about the impacts a two-year, large-scale construction project would have on the neighborhood. The only thing the developer could offer was a promise of good construction management and the willingness to abide by a Good Neighbor Agreement.
Another major theme was parking, traffic, and safety concerns, as people considered the prospect of so many more cars coming to an already congested thoroughfare. Placement of the parking garage entrance on S.E. 48th was repeatedly questioned, as the narrow street already poses navigation and parking issues, and numerous people warned it would be extremely difficult for cars to turn from 48th onto Woodstock unless a traffic light was installed at that intersection. "PBOT needs to be here!" a long-time resident exclaimed.
Existing traffic issues on S.E. 49th also got much airing during the comment period. Multnomah County Library representative Shawn Cunningham provided his card to Bolger in anticipation of future good-neighbor negotiations. Bolger's lack of familiarity with the traffic issues around that block, exacerbated by Woodstock's many unimproved road segments, prompted one or two people to suggest the developers "spend some time in our neighborhood" to study the situation.
Neighbors took some comfort in learning about PBOT's requirement of a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Plan that encourages apartment residents to take advantage of multi-modal transportation options, i.e., car shares, biking and transit. Bolger confirmed a traffic assessment was required, and would be taken into consideration in the design process.
Not all comments were negative. Practical advice included designing for continuous awnings to cover pedestrians in the rainy season, and providing coverage for the nearby bus stop. Someone expressed wishes for a courtyard open to the neighborhood; another suggested reducing the footprint to allow for more trees, bioswales, and other natural elements. People were pleased to learn that all Mill Creek projects are LEED Certified, and that they plan to retain 12-foot sidewalks all around. With regard to inclusionary housing – a requirement to provide a percentage of low-income units in the development – Bolger explained that eight percent of Woodstock Modera bedroom units will be priced at 60% MFI. In other words, a number of units will be affordable to persons or families whose income is at or below 60% of Median Family Income, an income threshold set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
One of the last neighbors to come to the microphone asked if the neighborhood could expect to be kept apprised of traffic assessment study results and subsequent plan changes. Bolger responded by saying that Mill Creek Residential, the developer, was certainly interested in "keeping lines of communication open, and helping where we can."