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Two Views • Northwest needs Irving garage

The sides continue years-long debate on whether Northwest 23rd needs a new parking garage
by: COURTESY OF HOLST ARCHITECTURE, An architect’s rendering shows what the controversial Irving Street garage would look like, if it is built in Northwest Portland.

Northwest Portland is a great neighborhood, renowned for its Victorian homes, world-class restaurants and unique local shops.

Northwest Portland is also known for being a parking nightmare.

City estimates show the area has a 3,000-space parking shortage. A survey by Davis, Hibbitts and Midghall polling firm found that more than 70 percent of residents, employees and visitors think parking is difficult and believe more off-street parking should be part of the solution.

Why so little parking? Most of the homes and apartments were built in the early 1900s without off-street parking, and the area became the most densely populated in the state. In recent years this residential density has increased, as more apartments and condos were built.

The resulting parking shortage results in the chronic circling of cars trying to find parking on the street. That circling certainly isn't good for air quality, and drivers scanning for spaces may not be paying as much attention to pedestrians as they should.

For more than two years, neighborhood stakeholders - homeowners, renters, business owners, institution representatives and the neighborhood association - met to develop a comprehensive parking plan for the area that was fair to everyone. The resulting Northwest District Parking Plan was approved by all the stakeholders, including the Northwest District Association, and then by the City Council in 2003.

It includes an on-street and off-street parking program, with six small centrally located garage sites. NWDA representatives helped select these locations - all of which are split-zoned commercial/residential sites.

Hopefully, the entire parking plan will be implemented, soon. In the meantime, the Northwest Irving garage will offer some parking relief by adding up to 87 parking spaces in the core of the retail area.

The garage fits into the neighborhood because of its unique Northwest District design, from its small size to historic design elements. It also has more visibility and pedestrian safety features than any garage approved in Portland.

About 80 percent of the front of the garage is made up of windows and openings so cars and pedestrians can easily see each other. Cars have to stop at a mechanical arm to exit, triggering visual and audible signals to pedestrians. These safety features are so significant that former Mayor Tom Potter changed from opposing the garage design to supporting it.

On Northwest 23rd Avenue, more than 80 percent of the businesses are small, independent stores, most without adjacent off-street parking. These small businesses are a significant part of what makes the neighborhood so special, and without adequate parking their customers get frustrated and find other areas to shop.

The Northwest Irving garage and Northwest District Parking Plan have been thoroughly vetted and supported at every level of review. Between 2003 and 2008, the garage and parking plan have been approved by the Historic Landmarks Commission, the City Council, the state Land Use Board of Appeals, the state Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court.

In its most recent appeal to the state Land Use Board of Appeals, NWDA asked the land use board to undo the 2003 approval of the district's parking plan. The board ruled against NWDA and again affirmed the parking plan and this garage.

It's clear the NWDA Board strongly opposes any parking relief - even one small, historically compatible parking garage with exceptional pedestrian safety features.

Our view is different. We believe the vitality of our neighborhood is enhanced when cars have a place to park and stop circling the streets, and local businesses are supported for years to come.

Richard Singer, who owns property on Northwest 23rd Avenue, is the developer of the proposed Irving Street garage; Deborah Haynes owns Blush Beauty Bar, a Northwest 23rd Avenue business; Tom Ranieri is owner of Cinema 21 on Northwest 21st Avenue.