These are the comments I made at the vote on the Tax Abatement requested for the Albert Apartments at NE Williams/Beech:
* The application appears to have met the minimum standards for the transit oriented tax abatement program specified in City Code Title 3, and in one area has exceeded them by providing 25% affordable units rather than the required 20%. Minor adjustments in design were made in response to the Design Commission's concerns. I recognize the investment of time and money the applicant has dedicated to the project already. My concern is that the existing standards for approval are not adequate.
* I greatly appreciate Commissioner Fish and his staff for the new process of reviewing tax abatement requests, with an additional round of analysis of the application by housing staff after Planning has completed the first review and the Portland Development Commission and Planning Commission give their approval.
* We are talking about forgoing revenue that could otherwise be used for basic services in multiple jurisdictions, and it is important to have good checks and balancing throughout the review process. Let me say again - the staff work on this project, and Commissioner Fish's revised process, are absolutely how tax abatement projects should be analyzed, clearly, objectively, and on the existing standards.
* My concern is that the existing standards are not adequate.
* The Purpose of the Transit Oriented Tax Abatement specified in Title 3 is:
" to encourage the development of high density housing and mixed use projects affordable to a broad range of the general public on vacant or underutilized sites within walking distance of light rail or fixed route transit service, and to enhance the effectiveness of the light rail or fixed route transit system. "
* Only some bus routes are eligible, according to the authorizing ordinance in Title 3. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd is eligible. Bus routes on Vancouver and Williams are not eligible for the program. The standard in the Code is whether the property is on the map, not whether it is actually within 1/4 mile of the street. This is an example of where I believe the standard in the Code is wrong.
* I am concerned that the proposed development, which citizens have asserted is more than a quarter mile walk to the transit stop on the street eligible for this program, MLK Jr Boulevard, will not enhance the effectiveness of the Number 6 bus. It is a stretch to suggest residents will walk four blocks to MLK. They might walk one block to Vancouver or catch the bus right outside on Williams, but those streets are not eligible for this tax abatement program.
* When I was on the Planning Commission, my job was to implement policies adopted by the City Council. I would have voted to approve the proposed tax abatement because it meets the standards set for affordability, public amenities, and distance to transit as evidenced by being in the shaded area on the map.
* Now, I have been elected to make decisions on policy issues. If I believe a policy is wrong, I want to effect changes in the policies. In the past eight months, my colleagues have voted to waive standards to change policy for particular sites and situations. While I am not a proponent of this approach, I understand that in some cases it may be considered necessary by members of the Council. If we don't like the policies or we believe a project should go ahead or not go ahead in spite of them, we can vote to do that. We shouldn't do it often, because everyone needs to know what the standards are and that the Council will follow its own rules. But occasionally, the rules don't produce the desired results.
* This proposal maymeet the letter of the standards set. Whether or not it does, I believe the standards are wrong. The public benefits pick list is out of date and does not provide the public with benefits above and beyond what a sensible developer would provide anyway. The identified public benefits of car-sharing space, ground floor commercial, and LEED silver certification are features seen in many new developments, without tax abatements. Lack of windows in 24 bedrooms seems dangerous - although the building will be sprinklered, what about non-fire emergencies when a window exit might be needed, such as an intruder blocking the door? What about natural air and light? My concern is that the existing standards for approval are not adequate. And where will the children play, who will live in these 72 units? The only outdoor space is the parking lot. I would like the Portland Plan to prioritize consideration of requiring useful common open space in multifamily developments.
* I support the transit-oriented tax abatement program when it is used close to transit with sensitivity to the neighborhoods it is designed to enhance. These tax subsidies should not be given out without the highest level of scrutiny, especially in these tough times. In this case, a higher level of scrutiny reveals cracks in the proposal. The neighborhood and even the chair of the AIA's Design Committee came out in opposition to the design of the structure. It is far from the designated transit street. If we were certain we will be able to fund a streetcar on this section of MLK in the near future, my vote would be different. We will have that discussion this afternoon. For now and for the next decade at least, the project is located on a bus line that is not a designated fixed route, and not near light rail or streetcar. I don't think it qualifies as a transit-oriented development.
* I would like the Planning Commission and Design Review Commission to update the standards, maps, and the menu of public benefit options for future transit oriented tax abatement requests, with different proximity and eligibility standards for developments on bus lines rather than fixed rail. As we heard in Citizen Testimony this morning, Council has limited input into decisions on bus lines made by TriMet.
* Although I can hardly believe I'm saying this after 18 years of assessing whether or not projects meet the standards in the Code, and accepting or urging denial of them on that basis, I cannot in good conscience vote for this tax subsidy because I believe that the project does not meet the policy goals intended for the TOD program, and therefore I vote No.