The first Central City 2035 Plan adopted by the Council in 2018 was the culmination of years of robust public process, through stakeholder groups in various quadrants and numerous hearings at the Planning and Sustainability Commission and at Council.
One of the primary reasons I voted NO on the original plan, and why I vote NO today, is that Council made a decision to cater –at the final hour-- to a single developer’s request for additional height on Block 33.
This action undermined the careful staff work to explore conflict of interest around zoning changes and height allowances, ensuring that no developer represented on an advisory body was inappropriately rewarded with height increases. This was a problem in this process! We heard from many proponents of more height in the area who have actual or potential conflicts of interest, some of which were declared and others not.
More significantly, Council’s decision to increase height on five of the ten blocks in the New Chinatown/Japantown Historic District erodes years of public process and design guidelines to right-size the district.
I share a core value with my colleagues on Council that we are in dire need of affordable housing options that serve all Portlanders –particularly those who are low income and at risk of displacement.
Yet, as we heard in the testimony in May, such out-of-proportion development threatens the historic and cultural integrity of the New Chinatown/Japantown district:
In order to be recognized, a historic district has to be large enough with existing buildings still intact.
As we heard from our Historic Landmarks Chair, we are ignoring the most basic principle of design guidelines, which compatibility with the ORIGINAL historic buildings. This means we should be measuring massing and height against historically significant buildings – more in the range of 1-7 stories, not 15 stories, and of 50’ quarter-block lengths rather than the full 200’ block.
A 200 foot height allowance will mean that new construction overwhelms existing quarter-block buildings original to the district, some of which are in dire need of repair and restoration.
Despite the revised findings, I believe this proposal erodes the City’s investment in the historic Chinese and Japanese-American community in Portland, undermines the role of the Historic Landmarks Commission, is out of compliance with Comprehensive Plan policy 4.48 and ignores the guiding principles the City adopted for this fragile historic district.
I thank Claire Adamsick my Senior Policy Director for her outstanding work on the Comprehensive Plan and Central City 2035 Plan, even while she is currently deployed to the Emergency Coordination Center. I also honor Linly Rees and Lauren King in the City Attorney’s office. It’s unfortunate the Findings try to explain how incompatible heights are compatible. It’s unfortunate the City Attorney was asked to justify the Council’s last hour decision, and that the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability refused to reconsider the Council’s hasty spot-zone or to compromise with historic preservationists. Thanks to community members who testified to that, particularly Kristen Minor and the Historic Landmarks Commission, Lynn Fuchigami of the Japanese American Cultural Museum, Jackie Peterson of the Portland Chinatown History Foundation, Peggy Moretti of Restore Oregon, and Steve Dotterer representing the Architectural Heritage Center.
In my opinion, this decision does not honor the Chinese and Japanese heritage of the New Chinatown-Japantown district.