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Hales on infill: Mayor speaks out

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - Poorly-designed infill in established neighborhoods is a bad bargain, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales - himself an Eastmoreland resident - tells THE BEE.Every time they see another for-sale sign go up in front of a house, folks in Inner Southeast Portland become concerned.

That’s what Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association President Robert McCullough told THE BEE, after viewing the “signs of change” popping up in the area.

“It’s not a concern that a family is leaving our neighborhood,” McCullough added, “but concern that a contractor will come in, split the lots, and put up two infill houses – and skip the environmental rules.”

In Eastmoreland, neighbors lately have been especially watchful of properties east of S.E. 36th Avenue due to what McCulloch calls “complex land use rules. The next time this begins to happen we, as a neighborhood, plan to litigate.”

McCullough says the neighborhood association hasn’t had the opportunity to speak with Mayor Charlie Hales about these issues, even though he actually is a resident of Eastmoreland.

However, THE BEE was able to do so, after Mayor Hales spoke at an East Portland Chamber of Commerce gathering on Wednesday, September 11th.

“We are now working on City’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan,” Hales began. “This will result in a ‘new map’ that will says what can be done in areas around the city. “While all of this is ‘on the table’, I am a big believer in the Urban Growth Boundary, [for] accommodating greater density in the city.

“I think, in some cases, we’ve done that clumsily. This includes putting in apartment buildings with no parking whatsoever. Zero parking spaces is not the right number; all you’re doing is exporting parking problems to the surrounding neighborhood streets.”

Asked to comment specifically on activities in Eastmoreland, Hales replied, “I think it’s a bad bargain to take an established a single-family neighborhood, and put two, or three, or ten units in there.”

He cited the Lents neighborhood, a couple miles to the east, as a location with a large inventory of lots. “There’s an opportunity there to create a lot of new housing, without screwing up the fabric of perfectly good, single-family neighborhoods.

“I also want to look at that infill issue,” Hales went on. “And, I also want to look at design requirements. I don’t think our requirements for design review are good enough or tough enough outside of the central city. They’re very tough in the central city, and they work very well there.

“But, we don't necessarily get that [high] quality of design in neighborhoods, or on main streets. I would like to increase the level of regulation.”

Wrapping up, Hales said, “I want to reconsider the question of what we are allowing for infill in single-family neighborhoods. What is happening now, in some cases, is costing us a lot of public goodwill. It’s a bad bargain.”

At hearing of these comments, McCullough remarked that he looks forward to a productive discussion with the Mayor – one of his neighborhood’s most prominent citizens.