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Linnton conflict goes to council

'Village' fans expected to pack hearing on plan to change zoning

The emotion-charged debate over the future of North Portland's Linnton neighborhood moves to the City Council on Wednesday with a rare evening hearing on whether to allow a mixed-use development to be built along the west bank of the Willamette River near fuel transportation and storage facilities.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. on the second floor of the Portland Building, 1120 S.W. Fifth Ave.

The room is expected to be packed with residents who support the Linnton Village plan, which calls for a housing, retail and employment development to be built on approximately 35 underused acres between U.S. Highway 30 and the river.

Neighborhood association President Pat Wagner says the plan will reverse decades of decline caused by such public projects as the widening of the highway, which wiped out much of Linnton's small business district.

In an e-mail to residents, Wagner wrote: 'If 200 people show up, Linnton's people will win. Linnton's people will have back what was ripped from our parents so many years ago. Linnton will have some shops, a town center, river access and the intermittent threats of closure to Skyline School will cease because Linnton will have more families. An ancient wrong will be made right.'

Many large businesses along the river oppose the plan, however. A group called the Working Waterfront Coalition says the land should remain zoned for industrial uses. The group has promised to appeal any change in the comprehensive land use plan governing the area to the Land Use Board of Appeals and, if necessary, the state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.

The coalition includes two companies that currently operate fuel storage facilities on both sides of the property. The companies - BP West Coast Products LLC and Kinder-Morgan Energy Partners LP - receive, store and send petroleum products through the Olympic Pipeline that runs from northern Washington to Linnton along the highway. Company officials worry they will be forced to curtail or close their operations if a mixed-use project is built there.

Metro Council President David Bragdon has written to Mayor Tom Potter saying that although the regional government has not taken an official position on the Linnton Plan, the council should consider 'the city's past advocacy (and infrastructure investments) dedicated toward retaining high-paying industrial jobs in and near the core of our region, particularly those along existing unique arteries of international trade.'

Several other interested parties will be following the proceedings closely. They include two groups of shareholders of the closed Linnton Plywood Mill, which occupies most of the site and would need to be sold for any redevelopment to occur. All of the shareholders either worked at the mill or inherited their shares from former workers.

Under the association's current bylaws, the most recent employees expect to receive more money from the property sale than the earliest employees - a split that could result in a lawsuit between the two groups.

Two local developers also are interested in the outcome. Homer Williams, the driving force behind the Pearl District and South Waterfront, has announced he will build a mixed-use development on the site if the council changes the comprehensive plan and underlying zoning. Developer John Beardsley hopes to build an alternative fuel processing plant on the site if the council retains the industrial zoning.

The council will not actually be considering the site's comprehensive land use plan or zoning Wednesday night. The subject of the hearing is a recommendation from the nine-member, appointed Portland Planning Commission to begin the legal process for approving such a change.

The June 26 letter conveying the commission's recommendation reflects both sides of the issue. It notes the recommendation was approved on a 6-3 vote, with even the supporters disagreeing about how to proceed.

'This was a difficult and contentious process throughout with two very polarized parties, both highly committed to their visions of the future of this area and no easy solutions,' it reads.

The letter also notes that any future development may be years away because the area requires millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements, including new streets and sewers. Because the area is not included in any urban renewal district, there is no obvious source of city funds for such work, the letter said.

The letter also acknowledged concerns about the suitability of the site for residential uses - and admitted that new housing may conflict with neighboring industrial activities.

If the council agrees with the recommendation, the commission must then hold public hearings on whether to change the zoning to allow a mixed-use development. The commission must then vote to send a formal comprehensive land use plan amendment back to the council, which will have to conduct its own public hearings on the proposal. If the council approves such changes, the decision can be appealed to the land use board and state courts.

The council already has scheduled a follow-up work session on the issue for Aug. 3. Because of that, the issue probably cannot be considered by the commission and returned to the council until the end of the year, at the earliest.

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