PLANS TO BOOT cars from a narrow strip of SW Ankeny to clear space for a "European-style" plaza in the roadway likely won't take shape until July, officials said, after advocates and Commissioner Amanda Fritz pressed weeks-old questions about how the proposal would affect homeless Portlanders.
The pilot project—lauded by transportation officials as a novel experiment and pushed hard by local businesses looking to expand their summertime offerings—is slated for the block of SW Ankeny between 2nd and 3rd.
A last-ditch deal between Fritz's office and business owners that would have allowed the project to take effect sooner, as soon as this week, did not appear to be in reach as of press time Tuesday, June 21, sources told the Mercury.
That would have been the day of the plaza's grand opening, if Fritz hadn't applied the brakes to the project by voting "no" during Portland City Council's June 15 meeting. Without unanimous support for a so-called "emergency" clause, items before the city council must be voted on twice and then wait 30 days to take effect.
At issue is whether people who aren't paying customers would also have a place to sit in the newly created plaza. Advocates from Sisters of the Road began raising that issue weeks ago at the city's regular sidewalk management meetings and raised them again in front of the city council. Fritz then picked up the baton.
"It walls off what is currently public space for the exclusive benefit of a handful of business owners, while making no provision for the benefit of anyone who can not afford to patronize these businesses," testified Michael Moore, a Sisters board member. "We're concerned that we will see the same problems here we see in Pioneer Courthouse Square."
Transportation officials say that would be up to the businesses, including Perierra Crêperie and Voodoo Doughnut, to decide. Businesses have agreed to chip in for lost parking revenue and to keep the space clean. Dan Anderson, a spokesman for the transportation bureau, stressed that sidewalks would remain open no matter what.
"The sidewalks are public spaces, spots for people to walk, stand, or sit, as allowed in the city's sidewalk management plan," Anderson said. "That will remain the same. We're not making any changes to the sidewalks."
Fritz, however, wants businesses to also install special bench seating near SW 3rd, so passersby and others would have somewhere to sit other than the sidewalk. In an interview with BikePortland.org, Fritz said she'd back immediate approval if business owners agreed to this condition. However, sources told the Mercury that business owners prefer waiting another month to work out their own plan.
Update June 22: Fritz during city council Wednesday, June 22, agreed to restore the emergency clause to the plan without a formal agreement in place, saying she was satisfied by the promise of further discussions.
Chani Geigle-Teller, a community organizer with Sisters, says some of the businesses on SW Ankeny "support the work we're doing" and that she was hoping, as of press time, that Sisters would be invited to sit down with the owners before the next city council vote on June 22. If not?
"It'll be business as usual," she says. "Meaning we'll be very attentive of areas with high citations or any harassment by private security or police. But we'd like for them to see us as a resource."