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First apartment project abandoned; second planned

This architectural drawing of the planned new Sellwood apartment building, on Tacoma Street just east of the new 7-Eleven store, on what is currently a 100-by-100-foot empty lot, shows what it would look like. The cars in front of the building are intended to be in motion, approaching the 17th street stoplight, since no parking is allowed on Tacoma in that area.The biggest surprise, at the October 3rd SMILE General Public Meeting presentation on a proposed new Sellwood apartment building with no onsite parking, was that the similar project long announced for the block north of the Sellwood-Westmoreland Post Office building, on 15th between Glenwood and Clayborne, had now been “abandoned”. That answered a persistent question – why, despite all the announced plans, the property had not yet been sold to the developer planning the four-story apartment building there.

However, that developer – represented at the SMILE meeting by Don Sowieja of Myhre Group Architects – said the similar Sellwood four-story apartment building was definitely going forward.

Both projects had more than the height in common; both have no on-site parking, since both involved commercially-zoned land. The City of Portland had not been requiring any on-site parking for businesses sited on commercially-zoned land, and although residential construction is permitted on such land, no provision was made in the city building code to require on-site parking in such a case.

This allows such apartment buildings to fill pretty much the entire lot – and when Myhre was asked by an audience member at the SMILE meeting why some space could not be left on the lot to reduce the sense of a monolithic building in a residential neighborhood, he said that the city planning department prefers the “highest and best use” of a property according to its zoning, which in this case means using as much space as is permitted.

The building would be 45 feet tall, and would be built to the property line on the south and west sides. Since it would abut residential properties on the north and east sides, an eleven-foot setback is mandated there, and would be provided.

The chief point of contention for neighbors at the SMILE meeting, however, was just where residents of the 46 apartments built on the 100-by-100 foot empty commercial lot would park cars. The assumption by the developer is that only people without cars would be interested in such small apartments, which would be rented at $2 per square foot – not an especially cheap rent in the local context. However, Myhre conceded that some renters would undoubtedly have cars.

A parking study, he said, had identified 70 parking spaces within a block and a half. However, it was pointed out, there is no parking on Tacoma Street which the building would front upon, and not much parking on S.E. 17th for a couple of blocks north – suggesting renters might park on Spokane Street or further north. Myhre seemed genuinely surprised to learn that there is currently no bus service on Tacoma, due to the weight restriction on the Sellwood Bridge, and less service on Bus 70 north-south than he had thought.

However, it was suggested the developer might be able to arrange some parking at the adjacent 7-Eleven store, and Myhre agreed that there was a plan to try to arrange that. With no loading zone in front of the new building, and no parking spaces there, it seemed likely that – authorized or not – those moving into or out of the apartment house would be parking next door at 7-Eleven to do it.

The City of Portland, and an independent citywide citizen committee, are both studying the same developer’s similar apartment buildings going up in commercial spaces around town, with an eye to amending city code to better reflect the need for parking for those renters with cars.

SMILE Land Use Chair Ellen Burr is actively involved in this discussion, and those wanting to discuss it further are invited to attend SMILE General Public Meetings on the first Wednesday of each month at 7:30 pm, and SMILE Board meetings on the third Wednesday of each month at 7:30 pm. All take place at SMILE Station, S.E. 13th at Tenino, a block south of Tacoma Street, in Sellwood.