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Big changes planned for Woodstock's 'gateway block'

by: ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Known for many years by Reed College students as The Frigidaire because of its winter draftiness, the house at 3908 S.E. Woodstock Boulevard is one of three historic homes that will be preserved on Woodstock's gateway block, when a subdivision, including five new homes, updates the entire block.For far too long, the residential block at the southeast corner of S.E. Woodstock and S.E. Cesar Chavez Boulevards has seemed to many in the neighborhood to be a sad looking gateway to Woodstock.

For decades the historic house at the southeast corner of S.E. 39th (Chavez) and Woodstock Boulevard has been informally known as “the Frigidaire”, harkening back to days when it was filled with Reed students, and was as cold as an ice box during winter months. The house at the corner of S.E. 40th was similarly dubbed “The Dust Bin of History” – a reference to a remark by the Russian revolutionary leader, Leon Trotsky.

Over the years, various Woodstock and Eastmoreland residents have contacted the property owners and various city inspectors to encourage improvement to these two most prominent historic houses on the block.

Although some minor improvements have been made from time to time, the prominent property on the corner continued to have piles of bicycles, a crumbling retaining wall, and garbage heaps in the backyard. At one time in the past, one of the houses also was residence to a “peeping tom” who terrorized two teenage girls living nearby, before he was apprehended by the police.

This state of disrepair and disrepute will soon end.

On December 3rd the Woodstock Neighborhood Association received notice from Portland’s Bureau of Development Services that a subdivision of five new homes is proposed for that block. WNA learned that Brian Barisich, current property owner of the block, has agreed to sell the entire block to Everett Custom Homes, a Beaverton company known for construction of recent infill housing in Portland.

Given recent neighborhood problems with some of the infill housing in Eastmoreland and Sellwood – among other neighborhoods in the city – the WNA Land Use Committee received this news with some alarm.

Would the R5 zoning be changed to permit a higher density subdivision? Would historic homes be demolished? Would new construction clash with the character of the older houses on the block?

The WNA Land Use Committee rushed into action, and arranged two meetings in December to discuss the proposed plans. On December 13th, fourteen people met in the basement of the Woodstock Community Center to discuss these plans with Neil Fernando of Emerio Design, the consulting firm that worked on the layout and engineering for the subdivision.

Attendees were reassured to hear that R5 zoning would not be changed, and the historic houses –at 3908 and 3932 S.E. Woodstock Boulevard – would not be demolished. Attendees were also happy to also learn that the large Copper Beech trees at the corner of S.E. 39th (Chavez) and Woodstock Boulevard would be preserved. A third house, at 6033 S.E. 40th, will be retained, but a second housing unit with an attached wall will be added to it.

Although consultant Fernando remarked that questions about the design of the new homes would have to be deferred to the builder at a subsequent meeting, attendees raised concerns regarding scale and style of the homes. Rod Merrick, Chair of the Eastmoreland Land Use Committee, also in attendance, suggested that special attention be paid to the western façade and windows of the home facing 39th (Chavez). Referring to the run-down state of the block over the years, he commented, “Improvements to the sidewalk and street tree plantings will make a very positive change.”

Terry Griffiths, WNA Land Use Chair, opened the second meeting on December 19th by saying, “This is an important corner. It sets the tone for the neighborhood. It will be nice to see it cleaned up a bit.”

At this meeting, Vic Remmers, President and Co-Owner (with his father) of Everett Homes NW, the company that will build five new houses and renovate three historic ones, addressed members of the Woodstock Land Use Committee and interested residents. He said he and his father have been doing infill projects since 2009.

“We started by going around town, taking pictures of old houses. We have been working on plans for the Woodstock block for quite a while, and we really like Woodstock.”

Participants urged Remmers to restore – not just renovate – the two historic homes sited on Woodstock. Remmers replied, “Once we get them cleaned up, we’ll sell them. We will try to keep them as original as possible.”

The group also thanked Remmers for proposing to save the historic Beech trees, which Remmers says were bought at the World’s Fair in London in 1908.

Further discussion focused on proposed improvements to properties on the south side of the block, on Martins Street – and details regarding the five new homes to be constructed on the block. Neighbors questioned the permitted removal of a number of trees that enhance the block. They were somewhat consoled to learn that many new trees will be planted, especially along the block’s curbside planting strips.

The timeline for completion of the entire block is slated for sometime in 2014.

Examples of homes constructed by Everett Homes NW can be seen in Sellwood at 1136 S.E. Sherrett Street and at 1333 S.E. Spokane, as well as online at: www.everetthomesnw.com.

Documents related to the infill proposal can be viewed on the WNA website – www.woodstockpdx.org . Pages 5, 6, and 7 of the Bureau of Development Services notice show proposed housing locations, tree removals, required re-plantings, and other land use details.