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Goals collide in industrial haven

Front Avenue traffic plans annoy neighbors

Local businesses are raising a ruckus about plans to squeeze four lanes to two on Northwest Front Avenue to make way for new housing at a former Port of Portland terminal.

The businesses, part of the Northwest Industrial Neighborhood Association, appealed the lane restrictions to the city a month ago. In another appeal, two other neighborhood groups Ñ the Northwest District Association and Pearl District Neighborhood Association Ñ questioned the 15-acre Riverscape project's ability to protect and enhance the Willamette River Greenway.

'This would restrict freight on Front Avenue,' said Kent Studebaker, NINA's president. 'You're taking away a lot of land' for vehicle traffic.

The project also 'doesn't take into account it is on the river and the neighborhood it is surrounded by,' said Patricia Gardner, chairwoman of the Land Use Committee for the Pearl District Neighborhood Association. 'We want them to come up with a different type of layout that is more respectful of where it is.'

Another fear: that more houses soon will edge into Portland's gritty industrial pocket.

The project is taking shape at the former Port of Portland Terminal 1 north of the Fremont Bridge. Naito Parkway becomes Front Avenue there.

The City Council was expected to rule on the appeals Thursday.

Concern about traffic hassles

Debate has only just begun. City planners would like to see more residential development dotting the Willamette riverbank from the Riverscape project back to the 20-year-old McCormick Pier, near the Broadway Bridge, the last riverfront housing constructed in the area.

'This is the farthest that residential zoning extends,' said Eric Engstrom, a senior planner with the Portland Bureau of Planning. 'It doesn't go north of Riverscape.'

Engstrom said it's tough for the neighborhood groups to argue that the proposed streetscape doesn't conform to city zoning rules because the site is zoned for mixed use. Its neighbors include Carson Oil; Gunderson Inc., a maker of rail cars; and Sulzer Pumps Inc.

Jeff Bachrach, the attorney representing the project's Portland-based developer, Riverscape LLC, said it already has gained city approval, and he downplayed worries over traffic hassles. He speculated that part of the neighborhood opposition comes from a lack of detail about the project.

Patricia Gardner agreed: 'There's no master plan, so nobody knows what they want to do.'

Neighbors and the city have balked at plans for the Northwest industrial area before. Five years ago the City Council denied Costco's application to open a store at Northwest Yeon Avenue and Nicolai Street.

'We have a treasure here with the Northwest industrial sanctuary and its ability to strengthen the Northwest economy,' said Ann Gardner, chairwoman of the NINA Land Use Committee. 'It is scarce in the region and an important connection.'

The sanctuary designation from the city dedicates the area to heavy and general industrial uses.

Despite neighborhood objections, a city hearing officer last January approved the mixed-use development with some conditions, including the removal of three railroad spur tracks from Northwest Front Avenue and setting aside property for a public bike and pedestrian trail.

Riverscape attorney Bachrach said it would take another year for the port to clean up fuel oil spilled at the terminal.

Developer won't budge

The lane restrictions are being proposed from Northwest Ninth Avenue to Northwest 19th Avenue to accommodate the 12-lot subdivision. Riverscape, the development arm of Ralston Investment Inc., intends to construct 12-foot sidewalks, five-foot bike lanes and on-street parking that would eat up the two Front Avenue lanes.

Riverscape's industrial neighbors are arguing that the developer should give up seven feet of its land to install the road improvements and replace on-street parking.

But the developer is unwilling to budge from the street layout. Traffic reports from both the city and the developer indicate there has not been a heavy volume of truck traffic there, Bachrach said.

'The city establishes the design of Front Avenue, not the developer,' he said. 'The city has decided this. NINA argued and lost that five years ago and wants a chance to argue that again. I would be surprised if those groups want to go back to four lanes, no bike paths, no street trees. There is already an established design.'

Bachrach said developers are planning a combination of up to 1,000 apartments, condominiums and townhouses.

They also are sifting through other ideas, including building a public plaza, cultural center, museum, hotel, conference center and storefront retail space as well as adapting the current 400-foot pier for visiting cruise boats.

There are plans to demolish several warehouses and a water tower.

'There are a wide range of options and ideas being thrown around,' Bachrach said. 'It's very, very early in the process. Nothing is resolved yet. The only thing that is definitive is that phase one will be housing. The bells and whistles will come later.'

Construction on the housing could begin as early as next year. Bachrach said the development company is in early discussions with the Portland Development Commission and other potential partners.

Most of the development would be set back 50 feet from the riverbank, the distance recommended by the city Planning Bureau and twice the required distance for the greenway.

Contact Kristina Brenneman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..