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Adams jockeys Hayden solution


Neighbors wary of compromise to open land for port project

 - Pam Ferguson and Tom Dana, representatives of the Hayden Island Manufactured Home Community Home Owners Association, fear that residents' health, economic well-being and quality of life will suffer if marine terminals are built a half-mile away.  Mayor Sam Adams’ 11th-hour gambit to win city annexation of west Hayden Island isn’t winning over skeptics.

Adams proposed Friday that the Port of Portland pony up $32.6 million to ease environmental and health impacts from its planned three marine terminals along the Columbia River, if the city annexes the port’s 800-acre Hayden Island site and zones 300 of the acres for industry.

But as the city Planning and Sustainability Commission takes up the proposal tonight, there’s still widespread opposition from island residents and environmentalists. And port leaders are reluctant to put up all the cash that Adams wants up front without rent-paying tenants in hand.

The lame-duck mayor placed west Hayden Island on his mayoral bucket list before leaving office at year’s end. That could earn him a legacy for preserving 500 acres of urban forest and other open space while providing 300 acres for hundreds of well-paying industrial jobs.

To do that, Adams is pushing for speedy approval of the annexation and zone change by the planning commission, so the City Council can give its final OK in December.

First, he’ll have to contend with dozens of critics expected to testify tonight, including two busloads from Oregon’s largest mobile home park located a half-mile from the terminal site.

Adams’ proposal “kind of created a lot of uncertainty and a lot of anger,” says Pam Ferguson, president of the Hayden Island Manufactured Home Community Home Owners Association. “It just feels like the community’s being bought off, sort of. We’re seeing right through it.”

A health impact report by Multnomah County and two nonprofits found that diesel fuel from trains and trucks could nearly triple the amount of cancer-causing air toxins in the immediate area, which already are 20 times higher than the state benchmark. That could imperil people with asthma and other lung ailments, says Dr. Gary Oxman, Multnomah County health officer.

“A bad-pollution day could tip them over the edge and bring them to the hospital,” Oxman told fellow planning commissioners at a Tuesday briefing on the health report.

Neighbors also are concerned about trucks that will zip by on North Hayden Island Drive, the entrance to the mobile home park.

To address such concerns, Adams proposed that the port pay $3.6 million to the city Housing Bureau to help mitigate for the health impacts. Mobile home owners could get money to install better windows and other weatherization, relocate from the complex or buy new mobile homes.

“I think that makes a lot of sense,” says Bill Wyatt, Port of Portland executive director. “The manufactured home community has been a particular concern for the (city) council,” Wyatt says. “To be honest, that’s their primary focus.”

The bulk of the mobile homes are single-wide and several decades old, and the community of 1,200 people includes many older residents on fixed incomes.

Mitigate land loss

Adams also wants the port to pay $5.8 million to acquire land for two park sites, and pay for hiking and biking trails and a park endowment, plus another $2.5 million allotted for various community improvement projects.

Despite the concessions dangled before mobile home residents, they aren’t budging from their staunch opposition to any industrial development a half-mile away, especially without a bridge that would take trucks off North Hayden Island Drive.

“Every neighbor I’ve talked to, nobody wants it,” says Tom Dana, who represents the mobile home community on the city’s Hayden Island Advisory Committee. “You can’t mitigate for childhood asthma.”

The mobile home park is quiet and safe, with little traffic, Dana says. Most space rentals are $509 a month, though some pay more for living on riverfront sites. Used mobile homes can be purchased on site for $40,000 to $60,000, he says.

But many expect home values to plummet if the marine terminals are built, he says, and empty spaces to mar the community as residents leave and can’t sell their homes.

Adams’ proposal to increase funds for community projects isn’t winning over the neighborhood association for Hayden Island, known as Hi-Noon.

“Not at all,” says Ron Schmidt, association chairman. Adams isn’t calling for any mitigation for the floating home owners on the island, Schmidt says, though some are 200 feet from the proposed railroad tracks to serve the terminals. Those are even closer to the development than the mobile home owners, Schmidt says.

Adams also proposed that the port put up $20.6 million to mitigate the loss of forest land and other environmental impacts of its project.

Despite that, the Audubon Society of Portland still fiercely opposes annexation of west Hayden Island.

The proposal before the planning commission is a now outdated city-port deal inked in August that doesn’t include the mayor’s new proposals or a host of other subsequent changes, says Bob Sallinger, Audubon conservation director.

“What the planning commission has before it, and what the public has before it, is really an incoherent mess,” Sallinger says. “Suddenly, at the very last minute, all the numbers are shifting.”

Agreement in works

At first glance, it appeared Adams upped the ante for the port.

But his new proposal is more of a shifting of where the port’s money would go, says Susie Lahsene, the port’s transportation and land use policy manager.

“I don’t think the amount has changed that much,” she says.

For starters, after two consultants concluded that $21 million in transportation improvements are needed, a new analysis by the Portland Bureau of Transportation cut that to $10 million, Lahsene says, and now is banking on raising the money from the state or federal government, not the port. The city also reduced some of the port’s expected costs for environmental mitigation.

The mayor’s new proposal “redirected some of those savings to the community,” Lahsene says.

Adams is jockeying to mollify critics while keeping the port from walking away from the development due to high costs.

The standard price to get marine industrial lands ready for development is $5 to $7 per square foot, Lahsene says. Earlier conditions set by the city would cost the port $9 to $10 per foot, she says, while the mayor’s new plan could lower that to $8.25 per square foot, or upwards of $9.25 per square foot if the port has to pay for North Hayden Island Drive improvements.

While Wyatt calls Adams’ proposal “very intriguing,” he also indicated the port has more negotiating to do on the overall terms.

“We’re basically draining our bank account to do something like that,” Wyatt says. “We will invest more than we will ever see in our returns.”

Adams offered the port a lower price for environmental mitigation in part because the money would come up front. But the timing for port payments is still up for negotiations, because the port doesn’t want to invest too much into a site that might not yield rent-paying tenants for a decade or two.

“It would be a bad economic decision on the port’s part without certainty associated with the development,” Lahsene says.

There was grousing from planning commissioners Tuesday that they’ll start taking testimony tonight before seeing Adams’ proposal in writing, and before the West Hayden Advisory Committee adopts findings. Some commissioners pushed back against Adams’ pressure to fast-track the proposal, saying they want plenty of time to consider the project.

Eric Engstrom, the city’s principal planner, says planners will commit the port and city’s new agreements to paper, via a revised intergovernmental agreement, after hearing public testimony tonight.

“Next step is meeting with stakeholders to put more flesh on the bones of the agreement Sam presented Friday,” says Jonna Papaefthimiou, the mayor’s planning and sustainability policy adviser. “We will have new language for review shortly.”