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Chase invites public comment on proposed branch building

New plans call for community space

HILLSDALE - Determined to build a branch in the Hillsdale Town Center, Chase bank officials and their architects got serious about listening to neighborhood concerns at a by-invitation-only evening meeting Oct. 13.

The bank, whose original plans were nixed by both the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association and the city's Bureau of Development Services, arrived with revised plans for a branch on the lot just east of the Baskin Robbins Ice Cream parlor.

Comments gathered from an additional public meeting before the Hillsdale Main Street Design Committee are expected to influence a final set of plans to be brought before the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association on Nov. 2.

Whether or not the final plans are accepted is up to the city of Portland, which is using city zoning and the Hillsdale Town Center Plan to determine acceptability.

Any decision by the city can be appealed.

Building size increased

Neighborhood representatives at the Oct.13 meeting were pleased to see that Chase had increased the size of the building as required by zoning. Much of the expansion is a community room. However, it was not clear whether the room would be open for use after banking hours.

The addition of the room got the bank closer to the requirement that the building cover at least 50 percent of the lot. The bank's first proposal covered 23 percent. The newest plans seemed to address the 50 percent standard by also placing an awning over parking, but some people, like designer Richard Stein, co-chair of the Hillsdale Main Street Design Committee, said that awning-covered parking doesn't meet the intent of the zoning requirements.

Stein also faulted the new proposal for being 'generic.'

'It could be for anywhere,' he said. 'It bears no relationship to Hillsdale.'

Others described the design as 'ho hum.'

Mikal Apenes, president of the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association, called its appearance 'pretty bland.'

Architect Paul Pawlowski of SERA Design, the firm that worked on a 2009 Hillsdale Town Center Plan, said the building as presented was something one might find at a shopping center.

'It is a free-standing bank that could be in any suburb,' he said.

Still, everyone interviewed agreed that Chase had made progress with the design. At the Oct. 13 meeting, the six-person Chase team, which included three Seattle architects, a contractor, an attorney and an executive, took notes as comments were made.

The delegation from Chase reiterated that the bank is not interested in acting as a developer for the site by creating retail spaces to be rented.

Neighbors have asked that the site be developed for diverse retail operations.

Chase sticks with one story

The desire for a two-story building was also unmet. Instead, the building's facade only gives the appearance of having two stories.

'We want people up there on a second story,' said Richard Garfinkle, the other co-chair of the Main Street design committee.

Greta Pass, a Chase vice present and part of the delegation, did not return calls for comment. But the Chase officials reportedly invited the Hillsdale group to submit written comments as well as drawings for the desired appearance for the building.

Mike Roach, co-owner of Paloma Clothing and president of the Hillsdale Business and Professional Association, was impressed with the community space.

'They are proposing a community room bigger than our store. You can do a lot with 1,700 square feet,' he said.

He also pointed to the new plan's combining of its entry and exit points rather than having them at separate ends of the lot, as presented in the original plan.

'It's one less place for pedestrians to worry about being run over,' he said.

But Pawlowski asked, 'Does this really reflect the essence of what Hillsdale is about? If what we saw were built, the community would feel they had lost. It doesn't fit the model of where we should be headed.'

He praised those who represented the neighborhood for their involvement and comments, and he called the dialogue 'very civil, very Portland.

'It was people finding their voice and using it.'

This story originally appeared in the Hillsdale News, http://hillsdalenews.org.