Hillsdale faces dispute over infill housing
Hillsdale resident Natalia Bonner is not happy with the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association.
She believes it has mischaracterized its own position on the Residential Infill Project (RIP), ignored her pleas to come out against the project and even insulted her.
After a Hillsdale Neighborhood Association meeting in April, she was unsatisfied when the association voted against directing the HNA board to address her advisory motion — which, if passed, stipulated that the association would publicly express opposition to the infill project.
"Based on my personal experience with the HNA, I can now firmly state that the Association, as currently constituted, is dishonest and opaque and does not treat its members and Hillsdale residents with respect and integrity," Bonner told the Connection via email. "It deprives residents of a voice on the RIP proposal and makes it difficult for Hillsdale residents to make their voices heard in City government."
The residential infill project is designed to account for Portland's spiking population, and would impact development within designated areas of the city, including Hillsdale and other parts of Southwest Portland. It would decrease the allowed size of new homes, and allow duplexes anywhere and triplexes on corners.
After researching the infill project and learning that it would affect her neighborhood, Bonner asked HNA members whether Hillsdale had declared an official position on the project. She says a Hillsdale board member told her that the association had expressed support for the project during a July 2016 meeting.
Bonner was unhappy with that position, so she trotted around the neighborhood asking Hillsdale residents to sign a petition advocating the dissolution of the infill project, expressing disapproval with the HNA's handling of the matter and asking for the association to change its position. She says of the 68 people she surveyed, 64 signed her petition.
"Because I didn't have support from the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association, I decided to pursue my own path," Bonner said at the April HNA meeting. "I tried to educate the neighbors about this issue. I also used each and every effort to make people aware of the upcoming changes. People were chasing me down the street saying, 'Natalia I want to sign it.'"
After that, things got hazy.
The HNA sent a letter to Bonner indicating that it had not, in fact, expressed any position on the RIP — although one HNA member indicated that he believed the HNA had expressed approval for the project.
"What's unfortunate in my own mind is my memory of the transaction that we had and the action we took is not fully reflected in the minutes of the meeting and the minutes are the official record of the meeting," said HNA board member Glenn Bridger, who gave a presentation on the residential infill project at the July 2016 meeting.
Bonner insisted the HNA had in fact established its position on the issue, despite the fact that the minutes do not reflect this point of view.
"The fact that you didn't reflect Glenn's words in your minutes, that doesn't substitute the true chain of events," she said.
After an argument at the meeting, HNA vice president Leann Knapp said the board would reaffirm its commitment to the procedural process but that its neutral stance stood.
HNA members then voted against Natalia's advisory motion 12-5. Bonner says a majority of the people who voted against the advisory motion were on the HNA board.
If passed, the advisory motion would have required the HNA to express disapproval for the project, prioritize discussing the project in upcoming meetings and perform an analysis on the impact of the project, among other requirements. Bonner has since issued a grievance with the HNA's handling of the vote.
Bonner also sent out a grievance claiming that one of the HNA board members said she had the "mentality of an immigrant."
"I was also very hurt by a criticism in a private conversation with an HNA Board member, who called me 'not a smart person' for publicly criticizing the HNA Board, 'who represent the people who have lived in our community longer than me and who have done so much for Hillsdale,'" her grievance letter stated. "This person claimed that I know nothing about how government-like organizations work and have the mentality of an immigrant, which yes, unfortunately, I happen to be."
The board responded to Bonner's grievance by apologizing and proclaiming a commitment to inclusivity and openness to all walks of life.
"The comments you described were inappropriate, disrespectful, and inconsistent with the values and purpose of our Association," the HNA wrote in response to the grievance letter. "Our board looks forward to additional conversations about how to make this organization a more welcoming and inclusive space for all."
HNA board member Don Baack expressed support for the residential infill project at the HNA meeting.
"My own personal (opinion) is that the city's motion to move forward in this way will not affect Hillsdale as much as other neighborhoods," he said. "But I also think we need to think about what the city is going to look like a hundred years from now, and look at the world. You don't see a city with several thousand-square-foot lots that develops into a city with any significant size."
Bonner, however, said the project is too far-reaching and is upset that it isn't complemented by infrastructure improvements.
"The plan lacks any support for infrastructure," she said. "What are we going to see in terms of roads, in terms of schools, in terms of parking? There's nothing in this proposal that will ensure that the livability of our neighborhood will remain the same."
But as HNA Secretary Robert Hamilton pointed out, even if the HNA were to express support or disapproval for the project, their position likely wouldn't impact it.
"If a neighborhood voted to oppose a draft and propose their own, it doesn't mean that will happen because neighborhoods don't have authority; they don't have power to determine what city policies are going to be within a particular neighborhood," he said.
The City of Portland's public testimony period for the RIP will end May 15 and hearings before the Planning and Sustainability Commission will take place May 8 and May 15.