Wednesday, April 19, 2017

How Portland's Design Review Process is Exacerbating the Housing Crisis [Exclusive HFO Content]

by Jennifer Shuch, HFO Research Analyst. 

Half a block East of the 5-way intersection of SE Ankeny, Sandy, and 11th, an empty and unused plot of land could become something unique.

The developer, Landon Crowell, has worked with YGH Architecture to design a unique 6 story structure with photovoltaic panels, triple pane passive house windows, and highly insulated walls and roof - the kind of forward-thinking structure Portland should be proud of. And yet, the plot of land still sits empty, despite the fact that discussions with the city started 16 months ago -- in January 2016.

The project went before the design commission five times between October 2016 and February 2017. During the hearings, Crowell agreed to reduce the size of the building by 8%, from 26 units to 18. At the third hearing on January 5, 2017, a staff report and recommendation to the Design Commission recommended that the project be approved. However the Design Commission felt it did not meet "subjective" criteria, despite meeting the standards required by the Portland Zoning Code.

The decision was appealed to the City Council, with a hearing scheduled for April 5th. The council delayed the hearing until April 12th, with no publicly stated reason given for the further delay of a badly needed housing project in a centrally located, transit-heavy neighborhood.

At the meeting on April 12, it became clear that nearby neighbors are the biggest roadblock. One neighbor, William Phillips, is quoted as saying the project is a "monstrosity." Priscilla Sturges, a resident who has lived in her house for over 40 years claims the project amounts to "elder abuse" because, in her opinion, the development will only serve "wealthy short-termers." In response to complaints from residents, Bob Zimmerman of YGH pointed out that the parcel is zoned EXd, and there is barely any residential housing in the neighborhood. After three hours of testimony on a 17-unit project, it was determined that a final decision will be delayed until May 11, 2017.

According to the Portland Tribune, Amanda Fritz was prepared to vote against the project, while Commissioners Fish and Eudaly were undecided (Commissioner Saltzman was absent). These are the same commissioners who have:
  • been complaining that we are having a housing crisis;
  • increased renter protections, and;
  • declared a housing emergency because of underbuilding.

Developers have continuously pointed out that needless delays and extended timelines for the design review process adds significant expense, preventing delivery of units at the lowest cost possible (and hence the lowest rents possible). In this case, the developer has had to pay $160,000 in additional city fees -- $9,411 per unit -- through the end of March.

Project Development/Roadblock Timeline:
  • The initial request for a pre-application conference for this project was in January of 2016. 
  • The first design review request was in June, but the project did not go before the Design Commission until October, 2016. 
  • The Design Commission reviewed the project five times between October 2016 and February 2017, when it was ultimately denied.
  • The project was appealed to the City Council April 5th, and postponed to April 12th.
  • Now, a final decision is scheduled for May 11th. 

In the End -- More Delay May Mean More Units, Even Unhappier Neighbors
Ironically, Landon Crowell has the option of holding off until next year in order to apply to  build a significantly larger structure in the exact same spot when new comprehensive plan takes effect and raises the parcel's height limit from 75 to 125 feet.

Read more:
NextPortland - Ankeny Apartments Denied by Design Commission
Portland Tribune - Ankeny Apartments: Part 2 of 2 Redlined and Denied
Daily Journal of Commerce - Multifamily Project Hearing Rescheduled
Portland Tribune - Update: Council Kicks Ankeny Apartments Back to Developer, PDC
Daily Journal of Commerce - Ankeny Apartments Project Appeal Extended