Not your average condo box
TRIB TOWN:Cottage-style project in St. Johns already has a waiting list
By Anna Johns
Larry Cowlishaw has been building and remodeling homes in the Portland metro area for more than 20 years.
“I built my first home while I was in high school,” he says.
Last year, Cowlishaw purchased a 100-by-100-foot empty lot in the Cathedral Park neighborhood of St. Johns. He set to work to develop the site in the usual way – meeting with his architect, engineers and neighbors. When his plans for an eight-unit town home complex were approved by the city, something unusual happened.
“Everybody wants to buy one of these homes,” he says.
Cowlishaw was astonished that dozens of people filled out paperwork to get on a waiting list for the eight units even before he broke ground in September. Now that the foundation is poured and walls are going up, the waiting list stands at 62 people.
“This kind of interest is really unprecedented,” says Jim Hodges, a St. Johns-area real estate agent for 18 years.
Hodges says he is seeing younger, more affluent homeowners move into an area that has traditionally been, he says, “blue collar.” He attributes the interest from buyers to the growing downtown St. Johns business district.
“It’s a combination of affordability and because it is an up-and-coming area,” Hodges says. “I think, before long, it’ll look like the Hawthorne area.”
Project is one of several
The Cathedral Park Village Townhomes, as Cowlishaw has named them, will stand four stories high in the middle of a bluff above the Willamette River at North Edison Street and Charleston Avenue. Each unit will have a view of the river and the historic St. Johns Bridge, which towers over the entire neighborhood.
The Cathedral Park neighborhood, named for the park that sits under the bridge, has seen a construction boom in recent years. From the top of the bluff to the river’s edge, there are four high-density residential projects under construction, with at least one more set to begin in the spring.
“The project that Larry is doing definitely appears to have hit a sweet spot in the market,” says Erik Palmer, neighborhood land-use chairman. “I think the reason is because he is putting a little bit extra into the quality of design and construction of his project.”
Each 2,000-square-foot unit will have large windows on the front, and each unit is designed slightly different from the neighboring one. Cowlishaw is most excited about the elevators that will go from the garage level to the top, master suite.
Zoning change spurs development
The reason for the sudden interest by developers in the neighborhood, according to Palmer, is a change in zoning. Up until two years ago, land surrounding Cathedral Park and bordering the river was zoned only for industrial use. Getting a zoning change, Palmer says, was too much of a hassle for developers to give it much attention. Then, when the St. Johns area concluded a multineighborhood master plan two years ago, things began to change.
Along with that master plan came zoning changes from the city that allow the industrial and empty lots in the neighborhood to be developed as live-work or solely residential sites. The goal of the neighborhood is to encourage a moderate increase in overall neighborhood density.
“What we’ve learned is a change in zoning doesn’t guarantee the kinds of projects we would like to see in the neighborhood,” Palmer says.
Palmer says most of the high-density housing projects in Cathedral Park have been focused on quantity rather than quality.
“By and large we’re getting the density, but we haven’t gotten the quality of design and construction that we aspired to when we participated in the planning process,” he says.
Cowlishaw’s cottage-style project, Palmer says, is an exception.
Design is what sealed the deal for Chris Rozell, a single mother who is at the top of the waiting list for one of Cowlishaw’s town homes. Rozell already has sold her Arbor Lodge home and she and her 14-year-old daughter are living with various friends until construction is complete, tentatively April 1.
“My daughter basically gets her own floor,” Rozell says. “Plus, a kid and an elevator? You can’t go wrong.”
The units are selling for $315,000 to $345,000.