THE SHAPE of a historic Northeast neighborhood is about to change, unless its residents get their way. A plan to build the 71-feet-tall Irvington Squire condo tower among the Victorian-era homes on NE 15th and Hancock has been hotly debated in the area for two years, but reached a milestone recently when neighbors say they flooded the city with 150 letters of complaint—the most vocal opposition a development in the area has ever received, according to the neighborhood association.

"This neighborhood is saying, 'no, no, and more no' to this gigantic building sandwiched between these historic landmarks," says Dustin Carsey, who co-owns the Lion and Rose bed and breakfast next door to the proposed condos.

At the core of the debate over the condos is the issue of density. In the city's rezone of the Irvington area during the '90s, the streets lined with historic houses were targeted as a good place to increase urban density, and rezoned to allow construction of new buildings up to 75 feet tall.

"We have an urban growth boundary," notes Irvington Squire architect John Perkins. "If we can't go out, we have to go up."

The developer recently cut the planned six stories of condos and parking to five, but some neighbors believe the project is still too big.

"It's not like the building is horrible. It's just wrong. It belongs in the Pearl," says Carsey.

The stakes are high for these condos, since all involved see them as a precedent-setting project for Irvington. The top of the Lion and Rose's quaint Victorian cupola is 45 feet, or four stories, but if the city approves Irvington Squire, five- and six-story buildings might soon define the neighborhood.

"As it was originally proposed, it would have been the most massive structure in Irvington ever," says Dean Gisvold, land use chair of the Irvington neighborhood's association. Meanwhile, Perkins said he has talked to several Irvington residents who are in favor of the condos but are afraid to speak up against their neighbors.

"The area is zoned high-density residential," says Perkins. "That zoning was a public process where the Irvington neighborhood did participate."

The city seems to know that no matter what happens to the design, someone is going to be angry. The Bureau of Development Services has scheduled an appeal hearing for August 11, before even approving or rejecting the project.