Backers of a controversial apartment development at SE Division Street and 37th Avenue have filed a revised permit with the city — circumventing further public scrutiny on the project and possibly eliminating risks the building could fall under new parking requirements headed to city council.
Beaverton developer Dennis Sackhoff's 37th Street Apartments have been a popular target for neighborhood activists, who fear its 81 units and zero parking spaces will result in choked streets. The project's detractors claimed a tenuous victory last month, when a ruling by the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) found the project did not have a door where law required. The ruling forced the city's hand. BDS forced Sackhoff to stop work.
As the Mercury reports in today's issue, that ruling meant the development risked being left unprotected by Portland's progressive zoning laws—which allow some buildings to forego on-site parking spaces. The city's Planning and Sustainability Commission last week approved changes that would place parking mandates on larger developments—like this one— and council members have signalled they are anxious to vote on the matter.
According to a release on the Portland Bureau of Development Services website, Sackhoff's company filed a revised permit application with the city yesterday, foregoing an appeal process and skirting a fresh application, which would have required a neighborhood hearing.
If it is deemed complete by BDS, the permit will mean the project is vested in current ordinance, free from any upcoming changes to city parking policy.
Sackhoff has trepidations about those changes. He sent his lawyer to last week's commission meeting with a letter that made dire predictions for what parking requirements could mean.
"Builders need assurance that they are vested under the ordinances in effect when they applied for their permits," the letter said. "It is certainly a possibility that opponents, who are apparently unconcerned about investments based on existing policy or the goals of providing affordable housing and supporting transit, would argue that projects already in progress would be subject to this adopted ordinance."
Both Sackhoff's attorney, Michael Robinson, and Project Manager David Mullens have declined to speak with the Mercury about the development.
UPDATE, 4:05 pm: The revised permit was only made available as an option to the developer on Monday. That's when Bureau of Development Services Director Paul Scarlett reversed an earlier position that Sackhoff's company would have to submit a fresh application.
Suddenly, after letting a 45-day appeal process via LUBA expire and failing to file a new application (which, again, would require a public hearing), the developers were ready with another crack at the old permit.
The revised application, by the way, eliminates proposed commercial usage on the apartment's ground floor—something that's probably going to draw further ire from neighborhood activists.
So is BDS showing favoritism to Sackhoff on this?
"I'm sure that it has that appearance, but it's not something that came about because of any pressure or any favoritism or anything like that," said Supervising Planner Mike Hayakawa. "It’s what they’re entitled to, and it’s our job as regulators to figure that out."
The Mercury put another call into project manager Mullens about the revised change. "Just because it has been so contentious, I think I’m better off not saying anything," he said.
Hayakawa expects BDS could decide on the revised permit within days.
UPDATE TWO, 5:22 pm: Meanwhile, the wife of former U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton has written city councilmembers requesting a public hearing on BDS' decision, and calling the bureau a "rogue agency."
"There are many questions that the public needs answered about the relationship between this developer and BDS," Mary Ellen Glynn wrote in an e-mail earlier this afternoon. Glynn is a former deputy press secretary for President Bill Clinton and worked as a spokesperson former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. She's also a neighbor of the development.
While there's no indication council will hold a hearing on BDS' call, it could take up proposed zoning code amendments [PDF] that would require on-site parking as early as next week, sources say. At least one commissioner is expected to push for stronger mandates.
Ty K. Wyman, the attorney who represented neighbors before LUBA, said there may be recourse to fight the BDS decision, though no plans have been made to do so.
"In my mind this is a pretty clear circumvention of the LUBA order," Wyman said. "My people are just beside themselves."