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Military selling surplus property on Southwest Multnomah Boulevard

For the first time in Portland, the military is selling property for civilian use. Two buildings, one located in North Portland in the Portsmouth neighborhood and the other in Multnomah on Multnomah Boulevard, were named as surplus property by the federal government in July.

The Sgt. Jerome Sears United States Army Reserve Center is situated in Multnomah Village. It currently has a limited number of army staff and serves as a place to store equipment and to congregate for trainings.

Seeing the site as underutilized, the military has turned the property over to the city to sell and redevelop as they see fit in accordance with the government's base realignment and closure regulations.

The city charged the Portland Development Commission with coordinating the planning and selling of the sites. As part of the process, the PDC is required to conduct outreach and solicit notices of interest from those who may want to purchase the bases. The deadline for notices is Dec. 22.

As the first military surplus sites in the city, the PDC is turning to consultants and other jurisdictions to find the best way to learn more about the federally mandated procedures.

'We haven't had anything like this in Portland before,' said John Warner of the PDC. 'We're just at the beginning of getting our arms around the process.'

Despite it being early, the news of the redevelopment worried some Multnomah neighbors appearing at the September neighborhood association meeting. The 3.7-acre property is zoned R1, meaning that according to city code, it could potentially have more than 150 units of multiple-person dwellings. Having recently struggled with growing pains because of the high density of the Headwaters project off Barbur Boulevard at 30th Avenue, many neighbors have said they are apprehensive about large development.

'I think there's a little bit of nervousness,' said Multnomah Neighborhood Association Chair Brian Russell of the base redevelopment. 'But there is excitement too.'

The future of the site

When converting military bases, considerations are given to anyone wanting to purchase the land for community needs-especially those that provide services for the homeless. The government provides discounts of up to 100 percent of the fair market value for purposes that provide public benefit but some Multnomah neighbors have expressed concern about having a homeless facility in the neighborhood.

Warner said that while the government encourages services for the homeless, there are many possibilities for the site and the city will choose whatever development best fits the needs of the community.

'(Providing for homeless services) is an overarching philosophy that Congress brought to the legislation, but in Portland, we have a ten-year plan to end homelessness and it is a much more robust plan than I think a lot of cities have.' he said.

Heather Lyons, the homeless program manager from the Bureau of Housing and Community Development agreed.

'The city is not interested in developing a shelter; what we are looking into is permanent housing,' she said.

Other than developments that provide a service to the community, the city will accept proposals from private developers as well. Whatever the site should become, it will take a lot of community input before any decisions can be made.

'Because there is not an urban renewal advisory committee, the process will rely on existing neighborhood networks to help define what the community wants,' Lyons said.

Whether the existing building on the property will be kept intact or not will be up for further discussion as well, Warner said.

'It's an older building and it may have environmental issues given the age, like asbestos or lead-based paint.'

As for what Multnomah neighbors will recommend for the site in the coming months, Russell said they will have to discuss the issue and learn more about the site. Though the building has been a fixture in the community for many years, most neighbors have never explored the property.

'A lot of people don't know what they would like to go in there. They don't know if the building should be kept and used or if the building should be demolished,' he said. 'To get some ideas we need to walk through it.'

For more information about the project, please contact the PDC at 503-823-3200 or register for e-mail updates on its Web site at www.pdc.us/housing_serv/hsg_development/dod-properties.asp