Facing questions over the legality of her plan to move Right 2 Dream Too to the Pearl District, Commissioner Amanda Fritz this morning has promised a public airing of the steps she and the tent city might take toward a permit by early next month.
The Bureau of Development Services will present the Portland City Council with its analysis of R2DToo's "zoning confirmation request"—a form would-be developers and tenants regularly submit to the city asking what uses might be legal and how—on the afternoon of October 3. The council will discuss BDS' response and take public testimony. The response will be made public next Friday, September 27, when the city council agenda for the following week is posted.
“Many neighbors, as well as the applicants for use of the new site, are wondering what the rules are with respect for Zoning Code, Building Code, and state regulations,” Fritz says in a statement. “This public hearing will give everyone the opportunity to review the City’s analysis and comment on it to the entire Council.”
Public outcry is putting a fair amount of pressure on Fritz and her colleagues, including Mayor Charlie Hales, who's been a staunch backer of Fritz's plan. As we've been reporting, Pearl District neighbors are in a bit of a state over Fritz's plan—claiming the city isn't following its own building permit processes, acknowledging some concerns about safety, sending letters saying there's no way the site could ever be legal, and moving to spend money on a potential legal challenge.
The Mercury has also learned the Portland Business Alliance also formally opposes relocating Right 2 Dream Too from Old Town. A letter (pdf) from PBA leader Sandra McDonough, obtained via a records request, says property owners will suffer from having tents nearby and urges the city to spend more money on emergency shelters. The city and county currently prioritize programs like rent assistance and rapid rehousing programs as more cost effective.
Fritz's statement says the Pearl District Neighborhood Association asked her not to meet with them until after the city's plan for the new site, at NW Lovejoy Court and Station Way, was clear. She says she hopes to meet with neighbors after the council meeting. Neighbors have told me they've not felt like Fritz was open enough to meeting with them.
Assuming that the zoning confirmation will affirm the requested use of the site, the proposed move will not occur until a Use Agreement specifying expectations for managing the site between the City and Right to Dream Too is finalized. A Good Neighbor Agreement between Right to Dream Too members and community stakeholders will be pursued at the appropriate time.
Update 10:40 AM: One strong possibility? R2DToo could very well embrace the recreational park/campground label it resisted during its long fight with the city over its current site at NW 4th and Burnside. Although code enforcers fined the site for operating as an illegal campground, until the agreement this month that saw those fines waived, BDS had also told the group it could apply for a campground permit.
R2DToo never took that step. That was, in large part, because it felt like the "recreational" label demeaned its mission of helping people on the streets get a safe night's sleep at a time of long waits for emergency housing. But it was also because the steps required to get legal in Old Town would have been expensive and difficult—historic design reviews and archaeological digging, plus the cost of adding water and power to a vacant lot.
Organizers will likely be persuaded to come around on the language of the code, which also allows for organizational camping under Oregon Revised Statutes. The new site requires a design review but isn't part of a historic district like Chinatown. And Fritz has already mentioned finding Portland Development Commission money for hooking up utilities.
This approach is especially interesting because it may help inoculate the city against likely legal action. Presuming BDS says recreational uses are allowed on the site—and Fritz probably wouldn't be moving this forward if she weren't fairly confident in that outcome—it would be up to the council to agree that Right 2 Dream Too decide whether Right 2 Dream Too fits those allowed uses. Courts tend to defer more to a governing body's interpretation of existing code than to special decisions that create new categories and/or codes.