Building the West End 

Houses and Businesses Struggle for Space

In a final resolution to a two-year battle, City Council voted last Wednesday to unanimously adopt new zoning laws for Portland's West End Project--a section of blocks adjacent to W Burnside and NW 11th Avenue. To the partial relief of housing advocates, the approved plan scales back the extremely aggressive business growth in the area--upscale development that would have come at the cost of affordable housing.

The specified compromise in the plan, as approved last week, is that new buildings are only allowed on an already established surface parking lot or to replace small non-housing buildings; already established housing cannot be cleared for commercial growth.

"We wanted to do something to preserve the character of the neighborhood," explained Graham Clark, Senior Planner with the City of Portland. "We feel that with this option, residential will still be an attractive option."

And even though City Council decided not to preserve existing housing, Clark does not expect that displacement of residents is out of the question. "The affordability of this area was likely to change whether or not the new zoning code was adopted," says Clark. "If you allow new development, then typically you will have a rent increase, but that's the case with any area that is growing."

The original plan, which was proposed by Michael Powell (owner of Powell's Books) and Greg Goodman, an advocate of parking garages, would have allowed aggressive commercial building in the entire area.

Although these new zoning laws set the perimeters for future growth, city planners are realistic that these changes may not happen immediately.

"I think with the economy taking a pseudo-nose dive, there won't be a lot of growth immediately," Clark explained, "but I would love to see cranes out there on the lots tomorrow."

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