Neighbors address housing construction in Reedwood area

by: Merry MacKinnon The Portland Architectural Heritage Center’s Jack Bookwalter met with Reed Neighborhood Association President and Architect Gabriel Headrick, for a walk through the Reedwood district to view its historic mid-century ranch houses – a preview of an upcoming walking tour of Reedwood sponsored by the center.

Reed Neighborhood Association meetings normally don't attract a crowd, observes RNA President Gabriel Headrick. But on April 6th, 'There were more people than I've ever seen at our neighborhood association meetings.'

Some forty people showed up - to hear representatives from Oregon's State Historic Preservation Office, and Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, discuss Reedwood zoning issues.

'Reedwood' is the name applied to the cluster of sleek mid-century ranch houses on large lots, in the section of the Reed neighborhood between S.E. Steele and Schiller and between S.E. 32nd Avenue and 36th Place.

Reedwood is zoned for higher density, as is the surrounding area, and controversy over new construction there has led to recent efforts to resolve development issues. At the April 6 meeting, two options were presented for neighborhood consideration.

The first entails a possible zone change that would place limitations on density, essentially preventing a developer from tearing down a Reedwood ranch house and replacing it with two houses on the same property. But such a zone change would not require new development to adhere to the locale's mid-century ranch design standards.

'Currently, the neighborhood has an overlay in the plan that makes it more dense,' explains Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Matt Wickstrom, who was one of the presenters at the Reedwood meeting. He told THE BEE afterward, 'I had to be really clear in the meeting that I wasn't making any commitment to a zone change.'

The second option would be to pursue an 'historic' designation with the state of Oregon, which could more thoroughly preserve the mid-century character of the neighborhood.

Residents at the meeting seemed to prefer the first option - trying to persuade the City of Portland, as part of its Comprehensive Plan Update, to revise the neighborhood's higher density zoning, Headrick says.

Portland's Comprehensive Plan Update will take at least another year. Whether the Reed neighborhood has any chance of getting the zoning changed on Portland's Comprehensive Plan Map is still unknown, Wickstrom says; 'We're not at the point where we could get any answers.'

If a zone change isn't feasible, then the neighborhood would consider 'historic' designation, Headrick says. Since 50 years have gone by since Reedwood's mid-Twentieth-Century ranches were constructed, the houses are technically historic, observes Jack Bookwalter, a preservation planner and research volunteer from Portland's Architectural Heritage Center.

'Mid-century is, to younger people, what Victorian was to my generation,' Bookwalter remarks. 'And Reedwood is a little mid-century treasure in Inner Southeast Portland.'

Whatever happens to Reedwood, residents of two other nearby neighborhoods will likely be watching closely. People from Reed College Heights and the Eastmoreland neighborhood also attended the April 6 meeting.

'Some residents from Eastmoreland were there to see if there's any process that would address development issues in their own neighborhood,' Headrick reports.

It's too soon to say what decisions residents will make, Headrick adds. 'This is too much of a huge issue to get a vote at this point,' says Headrick, who is also an architect. 'We still need to set a follow-up meeting.'

When it is scheduled, the follow-up meeting date will be posted on Reed neighborhood association's Internet website at:

Meantime, on Thursday evening, June 16th, at 6:30 pm, the Architectural Heritage Center will conduct a walking tour of Reedwood. For more information, scroll down for 'Neighborhood Walking Tours' on their website: Pre-registration is required.