Planners dip toes in planning vortex
Thursday, December 21, 2006
The Bermuda Triangle of Portland city planning, a vortex that figuratively swallowed planners, maps and residents a decade ago, is re-emerging as jobs, population and transportation create new pressures.
The vortex is Southwest Barbur Boulevard and a parcel near Barbur and Southwest Capitol Highway, identified by Metro in 1995 as a West Portland town center.
After years of controversy about increased density, and without consensus about its future, city planners and the City Council in 2000 simply left the Barbur corridor out of the much-debated Southwest Community Plan.
But now TriMet's general manager, Fred Hansen, has hinted about Barbur becoming a light-rail route
, and some Southwest residents see a need to rethink everything from land-use patterns to sidewalks along the designated state highway.
Robert Liberty, a Metro councilor whose district includes Barbur, says he'd like to see it undergo a "gradual transformation as an enhanced location for housing, shopping and services." At the same time, he adds, "It's still going to carry a lot of traffic."
In the 1990s, residents near the corridor stood firm against increasing residential densities, partly in fear that newcomers would arrive, but without adequate roads and public facilities to serve them.
"There are a huge number of land-use and transportation issues wrapped up in that," says John Gibbon, chairman of the Southwest Neighborhood Coalition's planning committee. "High density without infrastructure to support it is just scary."
Liberty thinks Portland's recent condo-building splurge reflects a shift in attitude about density. Urban density is considered a plus in areas such as the burgeoning Pearl District and the South Waterfront tower village.
"The market is changing nationally and in the region," Liberty says. "We are seeing things we wouldn't have believed 10 years ago."
In Portland, 20-story buildings are now considered "mid-rises" instead of high-rises. Four- and five-story condo and apartment buildings blossoming in Gresham, Milwaukie and Beaverton could be harbingers for the West Portland district.
As part of its 2040 plan adopted in 1995, Metro identified 25 potential town centers, including this one in West Portland. In concept, town centers provide a variety of housing options, shopping, jobs and transit links to other regional centers.
Current numbers suggest the plan's population target will be reached by 2022, which Liberty takes as a sign that the region should implement the plan more quickly.
A West Portland town center, he acknowledges, "is a challenge," given its quirky street system and the attitudes expressed a decade ago.
So far, associations of two of the six neighborhoods around the town center area, Crestwood and West Portland Park, say they're willing to talk about the idea again. As Gibbon puts it, "If they want to send us a bucket of money to get Barbur Boulevard planned, hey, great."
No public agencies have stepped forward to tackle Barbur Boulevard. Despite Hansen's mention of light rail, TriMet has not begun studies.
Liberty says local investment and neighborhood enthusiasm make a difference on where Metro chooses to spend its limited dollars.
"If there is a lot of controversy instead of a unity of vision and purpose," he says, "it's harder to say that's where we should put our time and money."
Fred Leeson: 503-294-5946; email@example.com
©2006 The Oregonian