NO TIME would have been ideal, but last week’s inevitable smackdown of city council’s attempt to move Right 2 Dream Too (R2DToo) came at an especially disheartening moment.
If you missed it, the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals made the only common-sense finding it could have in light of a challenge to officials’ decision to move R2DToo to a Central Eastside plot. It invalidated the city’s specious argument that claimed the self-managed homeless rest area didn’t qualify as a “mass shelter,” and should therefore be allowed to operate on industrial land.
That means R2DToo can’t relocate from Chinatown to SE 3rd and Harrison, as had been the plan since last year. The ruling throws one of Portland’s most notable successes for addressing homelessness into disarray and uncertainty, just as campers are being pushed from the Springwater Corridor, skirmishes over a proposed shelter at Terminal 1 are heating up, and a million other things make the city appear rudderless on this intensifying issue.
But it turns out the timing might not be all bad.
R2DToo made clear after last week’s decision it will press on in its quest to move to the Central Eastside, since more than $800,000 reserved for that purpose has already been spent or allocated. [PDF]
“It would be a shame to let that go down the drain,” the camp’s attorney, Mark Kramer, told me last week.
R2DToo, it appears, will seek to kill the part of the zoning code standing in its way. Kramer says he’s talking with city officials about modifying the rules to “permit certain houseless encampments to be sited on industrial lands, which includes the SE 3rd and Harrison site and would include other sites.”
Such code changes aren’t easy. They need to traverse the city’s land use process, which requires giving official notice and a public hearing before the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission before city council can even consider the matter.
Here’s the potentially convenient part: That process is already well under way for a slate of rule changes surrounding mass shelters.
Next week, the planning commission will consider zoning tweaks that would enable homeless shelters to sit closer to each other and take in more people, among other things. It’ll make a formal recommendation for council consideration later this year.
The changes are contained in the type of package R2DToo needs if it hopes to move to the Central Eastside. The question is whether city officials will make a move to plug in new rules that could benefit the camp.
“That might be an option,” says City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, a longtime R2DToo ally. Others confirm that possibility has been floated.
But as of press time, the city’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability had no plans to insert R2DToo provisions into its proposed code change, said Chief City Planner Joe Zehnder.
It’s possible, he noted, such a change could emerge when the package goes before city council, though it would face a high barrier of complying with state and Metro planning goals.
Whatever the city decides, it needs to happen soon. R2DToo’s supposed to be out of its current home by Halloween.