Update: Council kicks Ankeny Apartments back to developer, PDC
Portland's past and future collided at the City Council last Wednesday.
At issue was the proposed construction of new six-story apartment building in a part of town where the council has encouraged growth, inner Southeast Portland. The Ankeny Apartments at 1122 S.E. Ankeny St. would be seventh net-zero multi-family project in the country.
The building would also partly wrap around two historic Victorian homes on the same block. The homes' owners are opposing the project, saying it would dwarf their properties and harm their lifestyles.
The Design Review Commission has held five hearings on the project and repeatedly turned it down, even though developer Landon Crowell has tried to compromise by making numerous changes, including reducing the size of the building by 8 percent and cutting the number of apartments from 26 to 18.
Adding to the complexity, Crowell, an African-American, is one of few minority developers in race-conscious Portland.
After the commission denied his project for the last time in February, Crowell took the rare step of appealing it to the council. Both sides presented their cases in a hearing that stretched over two hours on April 12. When it was over, the council punted — scheduling it to be heard again on May 11 and asking Crowell to meet with the home owners and Buckman Community Association, where the property is located, to see if a final compromise can't be reached.
"This is almost the perfect storm of old Portland and the future," Mayor Ted Wheeler said after the presentations. "Two worlds are colliding. It's a historic neighborhood, but in a city that's in high transition."
There's no doubt the council is under pressure to encourage the construction of projects like the Ankeny Apartments. Metro, the elected regional government charged with implementing state land use planning policies, says the city needs to add more than 120,000 new housing units over the next 20 years to accommodate the additional people who will move here. The council update the city's state-required Comprehensive Plan last year to encourage even more multi-family buildings in the Central Central, which includes inner Southeast Portland. In fact, under the update that has yet to be acknowledged by the state Land Conservation and Development Commission as requierd by law, Crowell will legally be allowed to construct an even larger apartment building on the site than he originally proposed. City planners expect the acknowledgement in January 2018.
At the same time, homeowners, community activists and historical preservationists are pushing back on what they call the demolition of the cities neighborhoods. They argue that residential infill projects are replacing older affordable homes with expensive new houses and apartments that few residents can afford. The Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association has applied to the state to designate their part of town a Historic District to slow the pace of redevelopment, and other neighborhood association are considering the same thing.
Adding to the mix, the Design Review Commission is under fire from some developers for unnecessarily slowing the construction of new apartments the city needs and increasing their costs. The seven-member volunteer commission has the authority to request design changes that critics say are merely aesthetic. A recent audit of the commission's work by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability with consultant Seattle-based Walker Macy recommends the council adopt a new charter for it.
All of these issues surfaced during Wednesday's appeal hearing.
Crowell testified the building is designed to meet numerous city policies, including the climate action plan, and said, "The Ankeny Apartments is a design for the future of Portland. Homeowner William Phillips called the building a "monstrosity" that would make him feel like he was living in a jail if it was built. And numerous witnesses expressed frustration with the design review process, although Commission Nick Fish pointed out the could was only considering this one project.
By the end of the meeting, it was unclear which way the council was leaning. Commissioner Amanda Fritz said she was prepared to vote against the project if no compromise can be worked out. Wheeler repeatedly pointed out that if the appeal is denied, Crowell can propose an even larger project after the Comprehensive Plan update is approved. Fish and Commissioner Chloe Eudaly were actively engaged in the discussion but noncommittal, and Commissioner Dan Saltzman was absent.