After the Allegro, transfers of air rights will get more scrutiny
by: COURTESY OF SIENNA ARCHITECTURE CO., Neighborhood opposition helped turn the original plan for the Allegro (left) into a sleeker design (right).

Some buildings can have an impact even unbuilt. That may well be the legacy of the Allegro. If TriMet refuses to grant the Allegro’s developer a deadline extension to finish designs and arrange financing, the project will not be remembered primarily as a proposed building that fell prey to a downturn in the condominium market. Rather, it will be known as the building that forced city officials to take a closer look at how developers were buying and selling development rights. The original design for the Allegro, approved by the city, was for a 21-story condominium tower and a 16-story tower next to it, by far the most massive building in its immediate Goose Hollow neighborhood, just west of downtown. The Goose Hollow neighborhood association successfully appealed that approval, and eventually a smaller design was submitted and approved. But it was the way the Allegro’s developers were able to increase the size of their initial proposed building that drew the attention of people in the Portland development community. City code allows developers to buy, sell and trade certain development rights, called floor-to-area ratio. Basically, a property is assigned a floor-to-area ratio, or FAR, which dictates the total floor space of any buildings constructed on site. Land zoned for a 9-to-1 FAR can have the total floor space of the property’s building, regardless of height, be no more than nine times the size of the property’s dimensions. If buildings go higher, they must be skinnier. The Allegro site is zoned for a FAR of 9-to-1. But the developers wanted to build larger, so they made two deals to purchase unused FAR from two different sites. They agreed to buy FAR from a small building in the Lloyd District, and they agreed to buy 105,000 square feet of FAR rights from TriMet for $1.4 million. TriMet was selling undeveloped air space above a transit mall near the Allegro site. The two transfers were not illegal, but they went further than any previous transfers ever had attempted, according to city planning officials. When the Portland City Council upheld the neighborhood association’s appeal of the Allegro’s original design, it instructed city planners to consider tightening the rules governing FAR transfers. In fact, city planners met with a variety of people in the development community in early 2007 to address FAR, but no changes ever were made in city code. The two most criticized pieces of the Allegro FAR transfer involved its long-distance exchange of development rights from one neighborhood to another, and the overall amount of FAR the Allegro acquired. City code places no limit on how much FAR can be transferred to a site. But neither scenario is likely to occur now, according to Jeff Joslin, land use manager with the Bureau of Development Services. Joslin said that even without changes to city code, developers know that the city is unlikely to approve long-distance FAR transfers unless developers show a public benefit both from the receiving and sending sides. Joslin said that since the Allegro, no developers have asked city planners for approval to transfer FAR from one neighborhood to another. “I would say the word is out on the street,” he said. And since the Allegro’s proposal, only one building has requested — and has received — city approval for a FAR transfer from central city sites. Last year developer Tom Moyer was given approval to transfer unused air rights above his South Park Blocks Five property, behind the Fox Tower on Southwest Park Avenue and Taylor Street, to his South Park Blocks Four property, a block north on Park Avenue. Block Four is to be a 35-story office building, thanks to the transfer of FAR from the Block Five property, on which will sit a city park. The city’s design commission approved the transfer, Joslin said, because there was a clear public benefit in the form of the new park. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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