AFTER WEEKS of contentious testimony from area residents, Bureau of Development Services (BDS) Hearings Officer Gregory Frank is in the last phase of making his recommendation to city hall over controversial plans to switch the zoning designation of an 80-year-old golf course in Northeast Portland. The owners of Colwood National Golf Course—which is currently designated as open space—want the property rezoned for industrial use.
The implications of such a change could be dramatic: Some believe the Port of Portland, the body that operates Portland International Airport, wants to buy a portion of the undeveloped land and eventually use it as a third runway.
Frank has until May 15 to mull over the merits of each side's arguments. His recommendation will then be sent to city council, which makes the final decision.
On one side, a broad coalition of neighborhood associations, grassroots organizations, and individuals vehemently oppose the change in designation. In written letters and public testimony during the last six weeks, Portland residents complained about the potential loss of green city space and drops in property value.
Concordia Neighborhood Association Co-Chair Tony Fuentes has added that the negative impact on the environment would be serious, saying, "The location of this open space is along the Columbia and Whitaker Sloughs... sensitive wildlife areas that include fragile riparian zones and important buffers to these zones. The transition of this open space and habitat area to industrial use will have a substantial effect."
Most local activists fear that once the zoning designation is changed, the northern section of the 143-acre area will be sold to the Port of Portland for future airport expansion. They seem convinced it will eventually mean a third runway and, as a result, increased air and noise pollution over NE Portland.
The land-use decision is a "quasi-judicial" procedure, which means Frank and the city council can't discuss it—let alone take a position—outside of public hearings. That said, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman's office has said that Saltzman is "seriously concerned" about the possibility of airport expansion in the region and is opposed to a third runway.
On the other side, the majority stakeholder in the golf course, Bill Saunders Jr., argues that the Colwood owners are simply preempting the airport's future attempts at acquiring the land through more forceful means—like with the support of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He believes that if the FAA and Portland International Airport officials eventually want the land, then there's not much he'll be able to do about it. "This way, we're at least controlling the process," Saunders says.
The owners of the golf course have also assured residents that they'd like to donate the central portion of Colwood, including the part surrounding the Columbia Slough, to the City of Portland as a park area.
Nevertheless, area residents have prepared themselves for a protracted battle, and plan on fighting the rezoning all the way.