S.W. Portland not quite ready for mixed-use development
Daily Journal of Commerce
by Kennedy Smith
Along Southwest Capitol Highway, a four-lane throughway that connects Portland to Beaverton, there’s a small strip of businesses including Starbucks, Wild Oats and a McMenamins restaurant. Designated a town center by regional government Metro, the strip is what most people associate with the Hillsdale neighborhood, last stop on the way to Beaverton. But it’s hardly a stop at all.
Just before the road splits into Capitol Highway and Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway at 18th Avenue, the neighborhood’s first mixed-use project is under way. But most other development in the neighborhood is single-family infill.
The development is “the biggest thing going on in Hillsdale right now,” said Leonard Gard, a land-use specialist at Southwest Neighborhoods Inc., a consortium of 16 Southwest Portland neighborhood associations and three business associations.
The Watershed at Hillsdale, developed by the nonprofit Community Partners for Affordable Housing Inc., will contain 51 affordable senior housing units, a 1,500-square-foot community center and 3,300 square feet of commercial space.
But the rest of outer southwest’s development activity comprises single-family houses, row houses and condominium conversions, said Jeff Parker, a Realtor who markets Southwest Portland properties.
As far as mixed-use development goes, Parker said, the Watershed at Hillsdale stands alone.
Permit records from 1995 to 2004 show Portland’s west side comprising about 26 percent of the city’s single-family units and 5 percent of its multifamily units, according to the Portland Bureau of Planning.
The majority of the city’s large, multifamily projects have been built in Northwest, with the Southwest primarily housing smaller infill projects, the bureau said.
Because the Watershed at Hillsdale is the first development of its kind in Southwest, it’s hard to tell whether it will spur more mixed-use development, Gard said, especially when all the other development activity is single-family residential.
“Hillsdale has the best chances for row houses, so that’s what we’re seeing out here,” he said.
The major roadblock to mixed-use development, Gard said, is a zoning constraint that doesn’t allow for more than one use on most parcels.
In 2001, City Council adopted the Southwest Community Plan, which aimed to change some of the restrictions in order to rezone certain residential areas to commercial mixed-use. The Watershed at Hillsdale is the first mixed-use development since the plan’s adoption.
The plan encourages transit- and pedestrian-oriented mixed-use projects and a range of housing types, including affordable housing. But most of Southwest Portland is zoned for single-family medium- and low-density development.
Although most neighbors support more intense development with a mix of commercial and residential space, Gard said, Hillsdale is playing catch-up with the rest of Portland.
Gard said he’s holding out to see the kind of development outlined in the 2001 plan, “more intense development along the thoroughfares like Barbur, and some kind of project that would bring a work force with it.”
Land in Southwest is scarce for mixed-use projects, Gard said. Community Partners for Affordable Housing has applied to develop a project on Multnomah Boulevard that would comprise a mix of residential types but no commercial space.
The only other foreseeable opportunity for a mixed-use project in Southwest Portland is the Burlingame Fred Meyer store, east of the Watershed at Hillsdale, at 7555 S.W. Barbur Blvd. Fred Meyer is exploring redeveloping the store into a supermarket with housing attached, Melinda Merrill, a spokeswoman for the company, said.
“The community very much wants housing in there, so we’re working on finding a developer and figuring out how to do that,” she said.
Architect Richard Brown, whose firm rehabilitated an old auto garage into the Pacific Artists Dance Center on Capitol Highway, is eyeing a lot across from the Watershed at Hillsdale for retail use.
“We looked at mixed-use but it quickly became too complicated,” he said. “There was not enough parking to support it.” But, Brown said, mixed-use development in the area is “just a matter of time.”