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There's a right way for Linnton

The Portland City Council should vote Wednesday night to maintain current comprehensive-plan zoning for 35 acres of vacant industrial riverfront land in the Linnton neighborhood.

Many neighbors instead want the land developed into a mixture of high-density housing, retail shops, office space, light industrial businesses and recreational access to the Willamette River.

We see why the council might be persuaded to support the residents. Doing so could help bring to a close more than a decade of sometimes emotional debate about a neighborhood that has been in decline for years and has been subjected to many negative impacts, including the widening of U.S. Highway 30.

Linnton residents support converting the industrial site to mixed use. So do several officials within City Hall, Metro and the state Legislature.

The city's own Planning Commission voted 6-3 to recommend changing the comprehensive plan to allow housing on the Linnton waterfront in the future.

However, a cadre of businesses opposes the comprehensive-plan change and the Linnton neighborhood plan. These are industrial businesses that have invested greatly in the future of the Willamette River waterfront as a working, thriving economic and employment center.

The head of the Port of Portland also opposes the plan.

The port fears that the conversion of industrial land along the river to other uses is spreading and ultimately will hurt the economy of a region that should instead preserve and enhance its status as an international seaport.

We think the City Council may find it easier to side with numerous committed citizens than a handful of committed businesses. Citizens vote; businesses don't.

But that's not how good public policy about the Willamette River waterfront should be decided.

A vote about the future of the Linnton neighborhood cannot be made in isolation. It should not be about making up for past sins in how Linnton has been treated. It should not be based on relieving emotion or simply ending a long debate. It should not be based on any anecdote - economic or social.

The council's decision should be based on strategic thinking that preserves and invests in the working Willamette River waterfront and recognizes that the river and many of the jobs it supports cannot be moved somewhere else - inland to the suburbs, for example.

We believe that by making strategic choices about the waterfront's economic future, the city will have the chance to better support overall citizen, neighborhood, economic, and environmental interests and outcomes.

We understand that the city does have a plan for the Willamette waterway - the River Renaissance Plan. But the Linnton debate should tell us that current planning is neither strategic enough nor sufficiently supported.

Denying the Linnton comprehensive-plan change Wednesday night would be but a first step.

The council also must commit to join and strategically invest in regional efforts to preserve the working waterfront and help improve the regional economy. And do so in ways that benefit citizens, the environment and neighborhoods.

The council also should find ways to require business and citizen interests to work together to agree on and achieve specific outcomes without further hostility.