City Commissioner Nick Fish can go ahead and build his Resource Access Center (RAC) for the homeless in Old Town, now that he and Mayor Sam Adams have settled an ongoing appeal over the use of River District urban renewal money to finance the deal. Fish unveiled new designs for the center last month:
In Fish's words, the city has agreed to "take a modest haircut" on the maximum indebtedness—money available for development—in the River District Urban Renewal Area, from $549.5 million to $489.5 million. In exchange, an advocacy group called the Friends Of Urban Renewal, (FOUR) which has declined comment to the Mercury repeatedly, has agreed to drop its appeal to the Land Use Board Of Appeals—which could otherwise have extended well into winter 2010, delaying the RAC and other projects like improving Union Station.
FOUR began its protest last year after council voted to expand the River District from the Pearl to include Old Town. They questioned the legality of exploiting tax revenues from the Pearl to build public housing.
"I'm pleased to get this settled," Mayor Adams told the Mercury this morning. "We can use the resources to provide jobs."
Fish says it's "good news for people experiencing homelessness" in Portland, graciously crediting the mayor and Scott Andrews, chair of the Portland Development Commission for their role in hammering out the deal. "I think also one of the consequences is that the city will be held to an appropriately high standard in defining 'blight'," Fish continues—whereas if the LUBA appeal had gone to court, there was a risk of the 'blight' statutes being re-written.
Fish says he hopes the $60million "haircut" will be proportioned equally across the board of planned River District projects so that no one project takes more cuts than any others.
Fish also said he was pleased about a legislative compromise deal reached between the county, school district and the Portland Development Commission back in April to give the county and school district more of a seat at the table in urban renewal negotiations. County Chair Ted Wheeler made a point of berating city council for considering urban renewal to build a Major League Soccer stadium earlier this year—26 cents on the dollar comes from the county's vital services, he said, so he would have liked to have been consulted on its use to entertain the masses.
Fish stressed this morning that one can't "look at the city/county relationship and urban renewal districts in isolation," saying his efforts to fund homeless services for families out of the city's budget earlier this year (these services are normally funded by the county, but suffered cuts) were evidence that "in difficult times, we don't really care who's paying for the services, as long as they're provided."
The RAC will now be "fast tracked," and as soon as we have some definite dates, we'll let you know what they are.