Welcome to Portland's slick new City Council for 2009. Kidding. No sooner had Randy Leonard been officially sworn in for his new term yesterday than he was proposing a delaying a code change that has so far delayed development on SE Division for 31 months, in aid of "protecting the neighborhood," even though the neighbors have all shown up to council already to urge Leonard to just get on with it.
At council yesterday, Stan Amy, a developer from New Villages Group, showed up to urge council to vote in favor of changing city planning code on Division to allow for the second storeys of existing buildings to exceed 10,000 square feet of retail space, so that Gold's Gym, and other businesses like it, can get on with moving into the neighborhood.
Amy has been trying to get a Gold's Gym in the Wild Oats building at SE 30th and Division for almost 3 years, but thanks to land use delays and now, council's own six-month delay in approving the code change to pave the way for it, "I'm exhausted," he said. "The neighborhood is exhausted, the neighborhood has suffered, we've been at it three years, the businesses across the street have suffered..."
Instead of capitulating to Amy's desires, and hell, those of the neighbors and business association down there, Leonard pulled a different option from his butt yesterday, although nobody had seen it until then, because the council server crashed the night before. So Leonard's assistants had to distribute one by hand. Meanwhile Amy, whose patience seems monumental to this reporter, politely urged council to simply press on, while a bleak bureaucratic comedy played out in front of him.
"We're caught between a server and a hard place," said Mayor Adams, as he was handed a paper copy of Leonard's obscure alternative:
Meanwhile, council will meet to vote on the code change again next week. It already met on December 10 and December 17, but thanks to absences and snow, it's now going to be over a month since the vote was first scheduled, in the end. To add to the slowing down of the process, Commissioner Fritz is now working with Leonard to add requirements for even more neighborhood involvement in the changed code, should it eventually pass.
Leonard's butt-pulled alternative was out-voted by council, in the end.
"I'm anxious to bring this to a close," said Commissioner Nick Fish.
"When I listen to somebody with a lot of vision about how to make neighborhoods work and succeed," said Commissioner Saltzman, referring to Amy, "I'd welcome those type of opportunities to exist."
Leonard wasn't happy. "I can't even begin to describe how disappointed I am that we're sitting here having this discussion today," he said. Then, he launched on a difficult-to-follow rant about not being able to trust neighborhood activists, or developers, before urging everybody to vote against the code change and do things in a more "contemplative way" (than taking three years?):
It's enough to make a businessman want to move to Beaverton, I'd imagine. Which is exactly what we all need in an economic downturn. Should you be interested in living through the torture of this story in fuller detail, I'd urge you to go to the City of Portland's video archives, here, where it all starts on the 1/7/09 hearing, about 20 minutes in. Enjoy! (Or don't...and you'll need to download RealPlayer to watch it, by the way).