Neighbors worry about college expansion
• Churches and retail businesses are skittish about PCC's right to condemn property
'All Sinners Welcome' trumpets the sign above the entrance to Lighthouse Church of God in Christ in North Portland.
In Senior Pastor Bennie Moore's mind, Portland Community College representatives aren't exactly 'sinners,' but he is concerned that they have the right to condemn and take over the church and its property.
'Yes, we do welcome all who walk in the door,' he said with a laugh when asked if the sign applied to PCC officials. 'And no, we don't see PCC as the enemy.'
Moore's misgivings about PCC, though, typifies those surrounding the North Portland campus these days. He and several business owners fear that the college will use its right of eminent domain Ñ or the threat to condemn nearby properties Ñ as it continues to expand its Cascade campus along North Killingsworth Street.
Randy McEwen, PCC's vice president of administrative services, said Wednesday that the two-year college has no immediate plans to condemn nearby properties but could claim the property later.
'We don't have anything planned beyond what the (PCC board of directors) approved last June,' McEwen said. 'But I should add that that can change. It's a board decision, and we may find that we have all sorts of needs that say we need to go that way.'
Such a possibility has Humboldt area businesses worried to the point of near-hysteria.
Moore's church, located at 5736 N. Albina Ave., has hired land-use attorney Ty Wyman to represent it in city permit hearings and to keep an eye on PCC's expansion. Moore and other church leaders believe PCC will attempt to take over the church's property as it installs new surface parking lots.
'We're helping them register their concerns in a formal and organized way so that our disagreements with what has been proposed is clear to everyone and on the record,' said Wyman, adding that PCC has yet to return the church's requests to meet.
In the meantime, Bishop A.A. Wells, pastor of the nearby Emanuel Temple, said he is negotiating with PCC officials in hopes of sparing the church-owned Renaissance Market, at 909 N. Killingsworth St., from PCC.
Kinh Luu, owner of the Discount Center at 800 N. Killingsworth St., thinks the expansion threatens his three neighborhood properties.
'If PCC takes over this neighborhood, it'll be a dead area,' he said. 'No one will come over here.'
The business owners are expected to voice their concerns at a meeting Friday, March 1, held by the city's Office of Planning and Development Review. The 9:30 a.m. meeting takes place at 1900 S.W. Fourth Ave., Suite 3000.
Room to grow
Voters passed a $144 million facilities bond in November 2000 to expand and fix buildings on PCC's three campuses. McEwen said some construction at the Cascade campus will start this summer.
PCC announced its intent last June to use eminent domain Ñ if necessary Ñ to capture 21 tax parcels surrounding the Cascade campus. The college hasn't used the condemnation procedure so far, but it has either purchased or has commitments to purchase 11 of the 21 parcels Ñ to the tune of $2.9 million. The costs include such details as relocation services.
The properties include that of Albina Christian Life Center, 5522 N. Albina Ave., and a commercially zoned block south of the campus. The purchases include $710,000 for the church, which reportedly will offer services at the location until August.
PCC also has received commitments to purchase another three nearby properties that were not originally scheduled for condemnation.
In preparing for construction, the city has held several public work sessions at which it issued maps that, McEwen said, incorrectly hint at the college's expansion intentions. The maps contained lines drawn around 'areas that will probably be impacted in some form or fashion' but are not immediate condemnation candidates, McEwen said.
Moore, however, said he inferred that PCC wants his church property to serve as a buffer from an expanded college parking lot. Lighthouse Church serves 200 parishioners, according to Moore.
'Taking the church for parking really devalues what we do here,' he said. 'I'm not against PCC's expansion, but I have to wonder if taking down a church for parking is worth it.'
McEwen said specifically that the college has no immediate intentions of condemning the church and its property. Nor does it want either of the two Discount Center locations, he said; both stores sit at the corner of North Killingsworth and Albina Avenue.
'Even if we did, the city would strongly encourage us to maintain the retail presence there,' he said. 'So given that, why would we buy them in the first place?'
Susan Erickson, a board member with the Humboldt Neighborhood Association, said the confusion over what PCC wants and doesn't want stems from the technical and complicated condemnation process.
'It's tough to understand what the pieces mean,' she said. 'But just because PCC isn't acquiring property now doesn't mean that it won't in 10 or 15 years. That reality has always existed for those businesses and they probably never knew that.'
Emanuel Temple's Wells, though, knows the college could express interest in the property containing the Renaissance, the neighborhood's largest market. Neighborhood scuttlebutt is that Wells will trade his market's expansive parking lot in order to retain the market; he wouldn't confirm the rumor.
'We have to have a market at the end of the day,' he said. 'The parking is something we will work on. We've talked to them on two occasions, and, on the third occasion, we'll take a proposal to them. That proposal will be to ensure the continuation of the market.'
As for Lighthouse Church, it paid $142,000 for the building and property in 1999 and has poured more than $50,000 into renovations over the past three years.
'Because we have all this, we're definitely willing to go all the way to court on this,' Moore said. 'With eminent domain, it's political. It seems like everyone wants growth, but I do not. I'm a third-generation Oregonian, and I've seen enough change.'