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Uptown condos reach for the sky

Ten-story development plan worries residents in Northwest Portland

The Uptown Shopping Center is going condo.

In a big, tall way.

The center's owners are planning to build a $40 million, 10-story condominium building jutting skyward from its upper-level parking lot on the north side of West Burnside Street west of Northwest 23rd Avenue.

If approved by city officials, construction of as many as 115 units will begin next spring and take about 15 months, said Jack Onder, who is heading up the development team for Portland-based ScanlanKemperBard Cos., which bought the center last year.

The condo building will include at least 140 parking spaces and retail stores on the ground floor facing Northwest Westover Road.

John Bradley, vice chairman of the Northwest District Association, said the Northwest neighborhood Ñ already the densest in the state Ñ has not seen a condo project of this scale in years. Increased traffic and parking headaches are almost a certainty, since the project would be built up against a cliff, but Bradley said some of the issues could be dealt with through negotiations with the developer.

Most neighbors are just now starting to hear about the Uptown project, he said.

'We thought it was a perfect place for condos,' Onder said of the project, which is in its early stages.

'It made a lot of sense to build near the cliff there, and parking can be managed,' he said. 'We're replacing a suburban-style parking lot with housing, and bringing more people into shops and restaurants.'

Of the 140 new parking spaces planned, 57 would be for retail shoppers; the current lot has 53 spaces.

Zoning shifts

ScanlanKemperBard purchased the 72,000-square-foot shopping center from Federal Realty Investment Trust, based in Rockville, Md., for $20.76 million in 2002.

Since then, the property has become part of a proposed extension of the central city zoning guidelines to a dozen parcels to the north and south of Burnside Street. ScanlanKemperBard also requested a height bonus for residential housing, said senior city planner Debbie Bischoff.

If the City Council approves the amendment to the zoning code at its meeting Wednesday, the new Uptown project could rise as high as 150 feet along Burnside.

East of Northwest 21st Avenue is already included in the central city plan, Bischoff said, and Northwest district leaders wanted to add parts of Burnside.

'It's a main street that is very urban in character,' Bischoff said.

There is anxiety among residents of Uptown Heights, in which apartment complexes and houses sit on the cliff above the proposed condo site.

Residents there are 'concerned that the height and mass of that building is going to negatively impact their property values,' said Frank Dixon, president of the Northwest District Association. 'It also would impact (property values) in the blocks east of the site.'

The association was expected to make its own recommendation about the condos to the City Council today.

The developer is 'looking at the impact of a tall building in that area,' Bischoff said. 'It's not guaranteed; he has to prove that this tall building won't have impacts on the surrounding area.'

In general, she said, residential buildings don't generate a lot of traffic. 'People come and go at different times,' she said. 'There's great transit service there. There's a lot to be said of residential development in an urban area.'

Currently, the center's upper parking lot does not have direct access to West Burnside, with traffic moving only onto Northwest 24th Place.

'It's a win-win for the city,' said Onder, who is joined on the project by former Federal Realty executive James Kessler. He said they would not build to the full height, but closer to 125 to 130 feet.

Many tenants staying put

Onder said the development team is 'being very sensitive to the surroundings. There are only a few units that will be impacted. We're over 200 feet away from those condos. They will still have their panoramic views.'

He said the project's architect, Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects PC, has designed a 'modernistic building with a lot of glass to maximize the views but relate to the neighborhood.'

The shopping center Ñ whose tenants include Foothill Broiler, Elephant's Deli and Zupan's Market Ñ is just west of Northwest 23rd Avenue. It is split into two areas: one north and the other south of West Burnside.

Most of Uptown Shopping Center's tenants north of Burnside intend to stay put during construction. Joy Walker, owner of Joy's Uptown Style, said the construction probably would affect business, 'but we'll bear and grin it.'

Mike Zupan, chief operating officer for Zupan's Market, said the merchants would benefit from more parking, a critical issue.

The Northwest District Plan, which goes before the City Council for final approval June 19, calls for eight new parking garages in the neighborhood, a parking management company and on-street parking meters from Northwest 16th to 25th avenues.

Parking is not the sole problem. ScanlanKemperBard's decision to raise rent at the shopping center from $25 per square foot to $32 per square foot during an economic slump is prompting the exodus of at least three stores. Storables and Este's Mens Clothing plan to move to the Pearl District this fall. And Towne Papers recently closed its doors.

'Why's everybody leaving?' said Tony Spear, who has owned Este's for 27 years. 'That ought to tell you something. Construction is part of it. It's also price and management.'

'I view that as a normal transition,' Onder responded to the tenant complaints.

Still, Spear predicted that more longtime tenants would be pressured to move to make way for national chains such as Starbucks or Crate & Barrel.

'They don't care about what happens,' he said of ScanlanKemperBard.

Storables project manager Leslie Sampson, however, said that store's November move was motivated more by the need for additional space.

The store is increasing from 4,000 square feet to 13,000 square feet at Northwest 13th Avenue and Couch Street, a prime spot across from Whole Foods Market.

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