Wednesday, February 27, 2013

We can see (more) clearly now

Safety made the priority list as the plywood advertisements and silt fencing came off the corners of the fenced job site, allowing drivers and pedestrians to make turns and navigate traffic along Fremont. Thank you to the tenacious folks at the bureau of transportation. Already neighborhood business owners and residents have remarked how much better it feels.

It's possible we don't need the fencing in the parking lane after all. The best idea for a sidewalk closure this far-reaching (only 80 of the 130-plus feet out there is permitted) may be a sheltered walkway running parallel to the curb that would make it easier for both drivers and pedestrians.

Speaking of Fremont, here's an average situation during a recent rush-hour morning, when everyone's going to work and kids are heading toward Beaumont and Alameda schools. Even the crosswalk is congested. Where will 70 additional cars go?

During morning rush hour, Fremont backs up for two blocks at the 42nd Avenue light.
Portlanders are gearing up to chime in on the code amendments putting a stop to this kind of development. The city's recent study that found that more than 70 percent of tenants bring their cars should serve as guidance. In all the hours of testimony I've witnessed on this topic so far, only a few people have said they represent the car-free tenants that Rammers et al. desire. The other proponents of low-amenity buildings may ride bikes and take transit, for sure, but they also own and use cars when they need to. Everyone wants choices and mobility.

Considering the expense and time of LUBA appeals and city dithering, a moratorium might be the cheapest way yet to sort out all the issues.

With all the difficulties in the demolition and project setup of the proposed Beaumont Wilshire project, one wonders how construction will proceed. If the envelope of a building needs so much tweaking (main entrance of Richmond building needs to be moved, per LUBA; Beaumont Wilshire building needs a generous setback), how will the interior go?

Without offering parking, the developer makes public shared space part of his pro forma. Anyone building a house in Portland also has to build in parking; giving developers of these no-parking buildings a free pass doesn't help anybody but their wallets.

Friday, February 22, 2013

At the state level, common sense prevails

We just heard about the win for Richmond Neighbors for Responsible Growth, handed down by the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals. The permit for the project at Southeast 37th and Division is officially revoked, further sign that the tide should and is starting to turn against this kind of low-amenity high-impact development. Read The O article here.

Congrats to all fighting the good fight. Let's get some better buildings that benefit everyone, not just the guys with their hands stuck in Portland's pot of real estate gold.

(Speaking of The O, we're also grateful for the recent story on how minimal the measures are that are meant to put a stop to such exploitive development. Lest we get carried away with celebrating, a lot of hard work remains.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The silver lining measures 12 feet wide

With the plywood removed, visibility will improve for all.
If the sidewalk-closure signs are moved to nearby crosswalks, pedestrians can make safer choices.

Overall the project's off to a rough start. Its incomplete and inaccurate sidewalk-closure permit is part of the problem. We're urging the city to revisit and reissue the permit, hoping that the required input of a transportation engineer will help fix the avoidable hazards surrounding the site. Five days in, and a car has already been hit by a subconractor's truck, so be careful out there.

When prompted several months ago, one of the architects who works for the developer's firm couldn't come up with any positive aspects to the building, but there is one. It's that under City Walkway standards, the building must be set back to allow for a 12-foot pedestrian corridor.

a 12-foot setback at Northeast 44th and Fremont
Here's the 12-foot setback in front of the one-story commercial building at Northeast 44th and Fremont where tree planters and steps give walkers a break and create space for impromptu gatherings. Nice. (As an aside, the developer of the contested Fremont megadevelopment, Wally Remmers, has maintained it's not economically feasible to build fewer than four stories, but that 44th-and-Fremont building was put up only a few years ago; it's one-story; and it was built by real estate professionals—almost no one knows the market, i.e., what's "feasible," better than those folks. That building and its tenants contribute to the community, just as we hope Rammers' will.)

So here's what a 12-foot silver lining can look like: People sitting and chatting in front of the 44th and Fremont building, especially on a warm evening; the tenants seem to be thriving, even in a difficult economy. If Remmers' project strikes at the heart of Beaumont, which some allege, then hopefully it can evolve into that healthy role and become an asset to the neighborhood. The 12-foot pedestrian corridor is a start. The challenge is meshing that public space with all the garbage and recycling pickups and deliveries that also have to occur off the front of the building, given the lack of other access.

Let's hope the smart folks at the city and the architects can figure this one out—or get back to the drawing board.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

For Valentine's we send big love to everyone in favor of a better building

... and this includes media folk like Larry Bingham and Jack Bog, who recently helped focus attention on our case. Thank you.

With the building proposed for Northeast Fremont, it looks like we've got two tracks to take: Either we continue to press for a better building, one that serves its tenants and its community and provides handsome return for its builder, or if we end up with the building as proposed, we deserve the infrastructure that supports it. 

A few facts show why neighborhood impacts need to be addressed, especially in the area of safety:
• One side of the affected block has no sidewalk, and residents' landscaping there means that pedestrians must either walk in the street or cross it. Beech is a popular choice for drivers avoiding the 20-mph limit and stoplight on Fremont. City studies show that drivers will be navigating a several-block radius of the building to find parking.
• Numerous elderly, disabled, and young people walk Fremont. It is desirable to protect, if not enhance, this good pedestrian atmosphere, which is why the area is classified as a City Walkway.
• The project site is farther than 500 feet from peak transit service, the usual city requirement for a project of this kind. The developer should work with TriMet to restore service levels at his building's location.
• The landlocked site has no access other than Fremont, a city-designated emergency response route. If Fremont is too congested (such as now, with construction fencing in the street) or unavailable, is there an alternative route? This affects many east-siders in addition to Beaumont Wilshire residents.
• Using recent city data, at least 70 cars will be added to an already burdened traffic situation (low visibility, lack of good street connectivity, numerous accidents). Where will the drivers park them, and how much will they have to circle to find spaces? How best to get pedestrians out of their way? (Answer: Build a sidewalk; see first item.)

The area deserves a re-evaluation of its traffic capacity and recommendations for making it safer. Watching the kids race across Fremont at rush hour to get to school is harrowing.

There was a too-early start time today at the site, adding to the issues of signage and hazardous placement of the fence into Fremont. Hopefully the city sees a training opportunity in lower-impact construction and development basics.

This guy has to wiggle his way out of the site and then make a left onto Fremont.

Making it green

Could a wheelchair user navigate this corner?

Bus must cross center line to pass.

Walk this way

The project includes parking after all.
In Kerns, a historic shared driveway facility got the ax with no notice, no negotiation.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Scenes from a demolition

A student makes his way to Beaumont Middle School. Many find it challenging to cross Fremont at rush hour.

Another pedestrian crosses Fremont. Tip: There is better visibility crossing south to north than north to south.
Sign of the times

Is parking OK at the bus stop if the sign forbidding it isn't visible?

So long, parking spot

Truck crosses center line to travel westbound on Fremont.

The bus must enter lane of oncoming traffic. The fence has since been pulled back from the middle of the road.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Remmers & co. hit a few snags

Great news came in over the weekend. First, that the parking-less building proposed for Overlook has been put on hold. Then we heard about a serious potential legal issue facing a similar low-amenity project at Northeast 30th and Burnside, where the developer created a noncomforming driveway for an adjacent neighbor. That, and the fact that LUBA appeals by two other neighborhoods were allowed to go forward at the state level show the tide is turning against Rammers et al. and their scorched-earth development style.

Meanwhile in Beaumont Wilshire, and on the first business day of the Year of the Snake, the buildings on the Northeast Fremont site are being razed as I write this. The proposed four-story apartment building isn't permitted yet, so there's still a good chance that it, like the controversial Overlook proposal, could get the thumbs-down, at least without some significant modifications.

With this building, traffic-pedestrian-public safety of everyone (including potential tenants) remains one of the biggest issues. On one side of the block where the site sits there are no sidewalks and neighbors' landscaping means pedestrians have to walk in, or cross, the street. On another side of the block live 14 kids. Kitty-corner to the site is an extremely successful new bakery drawing many customers by foot and by car. Intersections are blind, especially with parking at capacity, which is a regular occurrence already. Now, Wallly Remmers thinks it's safe to add 36 additional cars to the mix?

Keep the letters/e-mails/phone calls going to the people making decisions on these projects (contact info at right). The newly reconfigured City Council has signaled that it may not be business as usual for this type of development.