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Freeman neighbors file suit against Water Bureau sale

After trying for months to convince the Portland Water Bureau to stop the sale of the Freeman Water Tank property, a group of neighbors are trying a different approach: litigation.

The suit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court on Tuesday, aims to stop the sale of the Southwest Portland property to Renaissance Homes for development. It was filed after Renaissance rejected a proposal by City Commission Nick Fish, who is in charge of the water bureau, to mediate the dispute.

Fish said he was amenable to having the issue resolved by the court. He was absent when the City Council voted to sell the property and was assigned the water bureau after the sales agreement had been signed.

The decommissioned Freeman Water Tank sits on a .76-acre property in the Multnomah neighborhood. For the past five months, neighbors of the property and others, collectively known as the Woods Park Advocates, have opposed the sale for infill development, arguing that the $140,000 price tag was preposterously miniscule, that the city’s efforts to notify the surrounding community was insufficient, and that the sale violates local and state law.

Last fall the Advocates formed an ad hoc subcommittee of the Multnomah Neighborhood Association, enabling them to secure funding under the auspices of Southwest Neighborhoods Inc. to hire an attorney, Kristian S. Roggendorf.

In response to growing pressure from the Advocates, Terence L. Thatcher, Portland deputy city attorney, sent a letter to the Advocates and Renaissance on behalf of Water Bureau Commissioner Nick Fish offering to enter into three-way mediation and requesting that Renaissance “delay the closing date and that the neighbors postpone any legal action until we have given mediation a chance to work.”

But Renaissance Homes President Randy Sebastian refused.

“I’m a very transparent person,” Sebastian told the Portland Tribune. “We are prepared to close, and will close.”

On behalf of three Multnomah Neighborhood Association officers, Roggendorf filed a writ of mandamus against the Water Bureau in Multnomah County Circuit Court on Tuesday .

“Renaissance would not agree to hold off on the sale of the property until we worked out whether or not there was going to be any mediation,” Roggendorf told the Tribune, “So they essentially forced our hand, and we called them on it.”

According to Sebastian, Renaissance was prepared to offer half of the property, once purchased, to the Multnomah Neighborhood Association for use at their discretion. But Roggendorf said this wasn’t enough.

“In fact, they’re talking about 50 percent open space that’s already in the plan, but … for the neighborhood association it’s not about negotiating with Renaissance; the deal between the Renaissance and the city is the deal between Renaissance and the city. We don’t feel the city did the right thing here. The city isn’t being difficult at all; they’re cooperating a lot on helping us get this in front of a judge, but the decision whether or not to go forward with the contract is between the city and Renaissance. … We want the sale to stop, but we were willing to go to mediation and discuss options.

“The problem, of course, is if you only get two parties out of three that want to go to mediation, mediation doesn’t work.”

In an email sent out to members of the media on Jan. 28, Roggendorf said, “We do not have a time or judge for the preliminary injunction hearing tentatively scheduled on Friday, but should hear something in the next day.”