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Reed College wins, loses at City Hall

College Mulls Options
by: Eric Norberg, Sequestered in the trees at the west end of Woodstock Boulevard, the “Parker House” in Eastmoreland may not be entertaining as many visitors as Reed College had intended.

After months of open houses to obtain neighborhood input, Reed College this spring submitted its new 'master plan' to the city. One matter found it still at odds with its neighbors in Eastmoreland: The nonresidential usage of two houses in their neighborhood, and that led to a hearing before the city.

In August, after hearings in June and July, the Hearings Officer at the City of Portland found for the college on the usage of one of those houses, and against the college on the other.

Approved was the planned use of the so-called 'Willard House', facing the college on Woodstock Boulevard at Reed College Place, for housing up to 12 offices for the college administration. The Hearings Officer found that this house was designated within the Reed 'master plan' of five years ago, and that the limited use proposed was not at odds with the previously accepted plan.

The Hearings Officer also noted that Reed College had indicated these offices would be temporary--till further office space could be constructed on campus--and that the college would then expect to sell the house for residential use within the next ten years.

Parker House usage denied

The so-called 'Parker House' across from the southwest corner of the campus, at Moreland Drive and Woodstock Boulevard, was recently purchased by the college and upgraded to serve as a location for college-related meetings. An elevator and a commercial grade kitchen were installed, and then the college sought city permission for the planned new use. Though some Eastmoreland residents noted the property was substantially improved by Reed, others feared the usage planned would cause traffic, congestion, and noise issues incompatible with the residential neighborhood.

The city hearings officer declared himself troubled by the scale of the plans for the house, described by Reed College in the application as 'formal breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, and small social gatherings for on and off-campus constituencies, special meetings for on- and off-campus constituencies, housing for overnight guests of Reed, infrequent gatherings drawn from the entire college community'.

In the final report, the hearings officer found that 'the frequency of use of the Parker House could be too intense', and 'approved the Conditional Use Master Plan Amendment and update as proposed by Reed excepting the request for inclusion of the Parker House into the master plan boundary and the request for conditional use approval for the Parker House'. The hearings officer seemed to suggest that a less 'intense' use of Parker House for similar activities (smaller and less frequent gatherings) might be acceptable.

Reed responds

THE BEE sought comment from Reed College on what it would do next, concerning plans for Parker House, and received this statement from college spokesman Ed Hershey:

'Reed College is pleased that the City of Portland Hearings Officer has approved the college's proposed Conditional Use Master Plan in almost all respects. This approval gives the college the authority it sought to expand the master plan boundary by addition of properties along its northwestern and eastern boundaries; to construct needed residential, administrative, and academic facilities; and to utilize the so-called Willard House at Woodstock Blvd. and Reed College Place for administrative offices. The college is disappointed that the Hearings Officer denied its application to include the Parker House across from the campus on Woodstock within its master plan boundary.

'The Officer found that the proposed use of the house for college-related purposes was intrinsically compatible with the residential character of its neighborhood, but that the specific frequency of use guidelines proposed by the City planning staff and the college were not sufficiently protective of that residential character. The college accepts that finding, and will look for ways to restrict its uses so as to conform with the Hearings Officer's opinion.'

THE BEE asked Hershey why the college had upgraded the house in advance of getting full approval for its planned use, and he responded, 'while we were required to--and did--seek and receive all appropriate construction approvals from the city, we felt assured that use approval is a 'complaint-driven' process. Knowing how we intended to improve the house and how we intended to utilize it, we did not anticipate opposition.'

And, as for what the college will do about this problem, Hershey replied, 'No final strategy has been determined, but the likeliest scenario would be for Reed to accept the officer's invitation to resubmit. I think we will also go back to our neighbors and see if we can settle on a mutually agreeable set of guidelines. We tried mightily to make that happen last time but the clock ran out on us.'

Community Garden

There was one more issue brought before the Hearings Officer in the Reed master plan: The college's intention to move the public garden on its campus to another and smaller plot on its grounds. Those who have been using the garden had protested this intention.

The Hearings Officer found that 'the provision of the Community Garden by Reed is commendable, and unquestionably the Reed Community Garden has been an important neighborhood asset. However, there is no evidence in the record of this case to suggest that Reed is legally obligated to continue providing space for the Community Garden. The Hearings Officer finds that it is not appropriate to impose a condition of approval in this [proceeding] requiring the maintenance of the Community Garden'.