The leaders of four neighborhood associations were seated in the dim fluorescent light of a church classroom. Photocopied pages headlined "General Explanation of the City Council Hearings Process" lay piled on lacy tablecloths. This was the meeting to strategize Keep Colwood Green's assault on City Hall.
On September 17th, City Council will hear public testimony about whether to allow the rezone of the 140-acre Colwood Golf Course in NE Cully neighborhood from open space to light industrial. The golf course owners say it could bring jobs to the neighborhood and offer to convert some of the acerage into a public park. The neighborhood leaders don't want to see their precious green space turned to pavement and hope the city Parks Commission will buy out the property and turn it entirely into a park.
Back in May, the city's planning bureau heard the heated debate over the rezone. The hearings office eventually ruled against the rezone, saying both that the Slough section is a "unique, practically irreplaceable asset" to the city and that the essentially political decision (industry vs. open space) should be left up to City Council. Neighbors see the hearings board rejection of the rezone as a major victory and proof that there's a solid chance the Council might swing their way, too.
But how to convince them? Bill Barber, of Central Northeast Neighbors, and Tony Fuentes, of Concordia Neighborhood Association, shoot ideas back and forth across the room. What's more effective - petition or letter? Email or handwritten note? "I think everybody in this room should get 10 people to testify," says Fuentes, "I will be disappointed if we don't get 200 pieces of testimony. I will be happy if we get 500." Maybe they could set up an info table outside the nearby New Seasons? "We'll have to rock-paper-scissors Street Roots for space," laughs one woman. The neighbors aren't digging the 22-acre "compromise park" that's promised along the environmentally-sensitive Columbia Slough if the area is rezoned. Neighbors don't use the private golf course as a frisbee-playing, dog-walking park (except illegally after hours sometimes), but see big possibilities if all the land could come into public hands. "It has such potential to be a regional park," says NE resident Nancy Hatch, "It's not a neighborhood park, but a regional asset."
More on the debate plus some hot rezone pix below the cut.
Here's what the space looks like now - that's the possibly-expanding airport at the top and the Columbia Slough running through the middle:
And the planned rezone (yellow space = light industrial, green = park):
Fuentes says the donated park is in the required environmental setback area along the Columbia - industry couldn't build on the area anyway. He thinks the industrial rezone would be a big step backward for Portland. "The comprehensive plan does not support it, the goals of the neighborhood do not support it, the local infrastructure can't support it," Fuentes says, "But, as happens in Portland, there's always the potential that some kind of compromise will be pulled out of someone's ass."
Mike Lindberg, a former Parks Commissioner who recently signed on as a consultant for the golf course owners, sees it differently. "My thinking is: give Cully the park they deserve," says Lindberg, who points out that the conversion to industrial could create jobs while still preserving the most environmentally important part of the golf course. "I very rarely get involved with lobbying," he says, "unless I believe there is a win-win situation for the City."