Road fees may leap

Hefty boost in development charges could help fund South Waterfront improvements
by: L.E. BASKOW, Per-unit development charges help fund roads and parks in the new South Waterfront neighborhood.

The Portland City Council could be asked to increase development charges in the growing North Macadam Urban Renewal Area to help fund more than $211 million in needed transportation improvements.

City transportation officials are meeting with area property owners and others to see how much more should be charged to build the streets, paths and transit lines in the area.

At two March meetings, city officials revealed the maximum allowable increase would raise the transportation fee that is charged to developers from $1,432 to almost $10,910 per apartment unit. Condominium and office buildings would experience similar hikes.

Such increases immediately were deemed unacceptable by Bob Durgan, a construction manager representing area property owner ZRZ Inc.

'That's unaffordable,' said Durgan, vice president of development services for Andersen Construction. 'Developers would simply go somewhere else to build.'

Kathryn Levine, a Portland Office of Transportation manager assigned to the so-called North Macadam Transportation System Development Charge Overlay project, stressed the $9,478 increase is intended as a starting point for discussions, not a serious proposal.

'We're just trying to set parameters at this point,' she said.

Nevertheless, Levine notes that even if the fee is increased the maximum amount, it would pay for less than half of the transportation work envisioned in the area. The rest still would need to be raised from federal, state and local sources.

'The (transportation) needs are very great,' she said. 'The question is, How high can we go and remain competitive within the region?'

In the region, transportation development charges currently range from $448 per apartment in Troutdale to $3,938 in Gresham, according to a recent city study.

The transportation funding shortfall is just one of several issues raising questions about the future of the South Waterfront Central District, the 130-acre tract in the heart of the area where high-rise towers are rising along the Willamette River, south of the Marquam Bridge.

Since work began in the district several years ago, the downtown condominium market has stalled. Financial problems have prompted Oregon Health and Science University to postpone construction on an underground parking garage that is supposed to be topped by an affordable housing unit.

And some residents are disappointed by the specifics of current plans for tranforming the riverbank into a greenway park.

At the same time, some projects in the area continue to move forward. An open house is set for Tuesday on the final design for a two-block neighborhood park. And a week later, OHSU will host an open house on its most recent plans for a satellite campus north of the Ross Island Bridge on property donated by the Schnitzer family.

Area had few existing roads

City officials have always known that transportation would be a difficult issue in North Macadam, especially on the land south of the RiverPlace project at the south end of Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

The concept crafted by the Portland Development Commission and approved by the council called for the densest neighborhood in the city to be built in a former industrial zone with few existing streets and where the north and south entrances - called portals - are restricted by Marquam Bridge supports and confusing signage.

Because of this, plans call for improving the existing streets and building new ones. But more than that, residents and workers also are supposed to be offered a variety of transportation options, including pedestrian and bicycle paths, a Portland streetcar link and a MAX light-rail line crossing the river.

Paying for the improvements is proving difficult, however, in part because of city policies governing transportation system development charges - fees on new construction to pay for transportation projects that improve capacity.

Under the existing charges, Transportation System Development Charge funds do not stay in the areas where they are collected. Instead, they are pooled together and distributed to eligible projects throughout the city.

After determining that North Macadam needs approximately $93 million in transportation work that qualifies for TSDC funding, city officials have proposed increasing the fees charged in the area, with the understanding that all of the additional money would be spent there.

'We are looking for a self-sustaining source of revenue,' city transportation Commissioner Sam Adams said.

This potential increase is being called the 'overlay' proposal. First announced last November, it formally was presented to a meeting of the 26-member area stakeholders advisory group and at a public open house in March.

Reaction so far has been mixed. Mark Williams, OHSU development director for the area, said the teaching hospital is willing to consider the proposal, but has not taken a position on it yet.

'Something needs to done, that's for sure,' Williams said.

PSU, OHSU may be included

Durgan agrees that something needs to be done, but he is afraid that imposing the entire increase in North Macadam is not the answer. Instead, he believes the city needs to consider applying it to a larger area - the area from OHSU's facilities on Marquam Hill east to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, including Portland State University and South Waterfront.

Planners have talked about designating this area as a science and technology research triangle. The triangle concept will be studied in depth as part of the Portland Plan, the effort to update numerous city land use plans later this year.

'The idea is, people are supposed to be moving through this entire area all the time,' Durgan said. 'If that's the case, then the transportation needs of the entire area should be considered at the same time.'

No one - including Durgan - knows what the overlay increase would be if spread throughout the larger area.

Durgan admits it could be even higher than the maximum allowed in North Macadam because of the additional potential projects, such as reworking the Southwest Sixth Avenue exit off Interstate 5 toward PSU.

'The city needs to look at the bigger picture,' Durgan said. 'It wouldn't make any sense to fix all the problems in the area, but have people run into traffic jams when they try to leave.'

The stakeholders advisory group is scheduled to make its recommendation on the potential increase this summer. It could go to the council in the fall.

Parks don't please all

Transportation improvements are not the only projects considered essential to improve livability in North Macadam. Plans also call for two new parks - a two-block neighborhood park just west of the South Waterfront Central District residential towers, and a section of an expanded greenway on the five-block stretch of the Willamette River east of them.

Like the overlay proposal, the two parks are drawing mixed reviews.

The final design for the neighborhood park will be presented at an open house Tuesday. It envisions a large lawn, a community gathering space, a native plant garden and storm-water treatment facilities. The construction budget is set at around $3.7 million.

Ken Love, chairman of the South Portland Neighborhood Association, which includes South Waterfront, is pleased with the current proposal.

'It will go a long way for making the area a real neighborhood,' he said.

Love is not so happy about plans for the greenway, however. He believes it does not include enough public amenities.

Although Love believes the proposed pedestrian and walking trails will be well used, he is disappointed that it does not include more specific sites for bird-watching and other recreational activities.

Patty Freeman, the greenway project manager for Portland Parks and Recreation, said the plan was developed through numerous meetings with stakeholders over the past few year.

'We understand that park supporters always want more,' Freeman said.

Work could begin on the South Waterfront Central District portion of the greenway this summer. It is budgeted at $6 million.

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Two open houses are planned this month on future developments within the Central District of the South Waterfront Urban Renewal Area.

South Waterfront neighborhood park open house

What: Presentation of proposed final design for two-block area designated for public park.

When: Tuesday, April 22, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., presentation at 6 p.m.

Where: OHSU Center for Health and Healing, third floor, 3303 S.W. Bond St.

OHSU Schnitzer Campus open house

What: Update on plans for building a satellite OHSU campus south of the Ross Island Bridge

When: Tuesday, April 29, 4 p.m.

Where: OHSU Center for Health and Healing, third floor, 3303 S.W. Bond St.