COMMISSIONER AMANDA FRITZ marked two major milestones last Friday, September 27, in her long-discussed and extremely controversial push to move homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too from prominent land in Old Town onto an out-of-the-way city lot in the Pearl.
That afternoon—amid outcry and pushback from neighborhood opponents and skeptics who argued the city couldn't get away with what Fritz was planning—she released a tightly crafted letter from Portland's top code enforcer, Paul Scarlett, that all but anoints her plan as legal.
In short, the Bureau of Development Services would treat the site like a nonprofit "community service," exempt from time-consuming and costly design reviews, conditional use appeals, or building permit requests.
Also last Friday? Fritz finally started the city's official countdown toward the move. Three weeks after announcing a legal agreement with the site and its current landlords, she put her own name on the document—activating a 30-day deadline that requires the group to be off its current spot at NW 4th and Burnside, and up and running at the new site, beneath a Broadway Bridge ramp, by the end of this month.
"If it can't be accomplished in short order," she says, "we would have to renegotiate the settlement agreement."
Both developments, however, are mere stage dressing for what's emerged as the first real test of Fritz's plan: a city council hearing this Thursday, October 3, where her colleagues will either wave along or reject the work Fritz has done so far.
And, as of press time Tuesday, October 1, it was unclear whether Fritz would have the three votes needed to keep pushing. (Although observers also counter it's unlikely she'd have called the hearing if she didn't.)
Fritz has been working closely with Mayor Charlie Hales—he oversees the Portland Development Commission (PDC), which owns the Pearl District lot Fritz is offering—but Hales has yet to officially comment on his leanings.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman, an R2DToo skeptic, was still puzzling through the finer points of Fritz's proposal with his staff, his office told the Mercury. Another R2DToo doubter, Commissioner Nick Fish, told the Mercury he wouldn't be attending Thursday's hearing, attending a Portland Business Alliance-sponsored conference for small businesses instead.
Commissioner Steve Novick, meanwhile, didn't respond to a request for comment.
Fritz has asked supporters of Right 2 Dream Too to show up in droves on Thursday. Critics are planning on doing the same.
A consortium of nearby business interests fighting the move—led by prominent developers Homer Williams and Dike Dame—is preparing to challenge any city decision that clears the way for Right 2 Dream Too's relocation.
"Yes," was the one-word answer supplied by the group's spokesman, John Mangan, when asked if a formal challenge was in the works.
By way of laying groundwork for their claims, the businesses met on Monday, September 30, with the Oregonian's editorial board. They've also been filling their quiver with legal counterarguments.
Mangan says the group doesn't think the city is playing fair—especially by dismissing parking agreements, first reported by the Mercury, that appear to bind the lot Fritz has offered. The group also has prepared a 10-point rebuttal of the city's zoning letter, arguing that Scarlett, head of the Bureau of Development Services, selectively ignored code language that wouldn't allow tents on a city lot.
But in an admission that could have some bearing on Thursday's hearing, Mangan also says his clients—Williams and Dame are major political financiers and supported Hales—haven't gotten any traction so far in city hall or with the PDC.
"Yes, we have talked to the PDC. They agree with the move," Mangan told the Mercury. "And we have had no response from the mayor or the other commissioners."
Fritz, on the other hand, was sounding confident in remarks to the Oregonian late Monday.
"I might not like the development next to me or in my neighborhood," she told the paper. "But if I don't have the right to stop it, I don't have the right to stop it."