Don't Be So Dense 

Northeast Neighborhood Discusses Smart Density

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"DON'T EVER let someone call you a 'Not in My Backyarder' [NIMBY]. If you don't care about your backyard, no one else is going to," said City Commissioner Amanda Fritz to a crowd of 40 neighbors who woke up early on the morning of Saturday, April 18, to discuss density in the Irvington neighborhood.

Apartment and condo projects planned for the historic neighborhood are good for transit and bad for sprawl—but are there ways to build density that don't upset the neighbors?

A planned 71-foot-tall condo project called Irvington Squire ["Raise the Roofline," News, July 10, 2008] tested the waters last summer for high-density development in the tree-lined neighborhood of historic homes. The response from neighbors was sour: The bed and breakfast across the street from the development draped its deck with a banner reading: "Shrink the Condos!"

At Saturday's density workshop, a new infill development was on residents' minds: a plan to split up a historic estate on NE 28th and develop it into three new houses.

"We don't want to change the face of our neighborhood without considering architectural integrity," said resident Kimberley Schafbuch. "It's scary."

"When you come in and do something like this, it can change the whole feel of the street," agreed neighbor Cindy Bilotti.

Metro Council President David Bragdon was on hand to point out that Portland is actually less dense today than it was 50 years ago. Portland's growth since then has been "built on 30 years of cheap land and cheap fuel," said Bragdon. "We're going to have to figure out a way to bloom in a truly urban way."

Filling inner Portland neighborhoods with denser housing is one of Mayor Sam Adams' top priorities because it means less need to sprawl outward as Portland gains population. Last week Adams stumped in East Portland for Senate Bill 907, which will allow Portland to combat ugly infill with a more extensive design review for dense development in transit corridors and town centers.

Fritz supports the bill but thinks Portland can't leave out infrastructure as it plans for denser housing. With the budget crunch, the city is slashing funding to all departments, including long-term planning projects and the Office of Neighborhood Involvement.

Developers and the city will run into problems "if you cram too much density, too much height in neighborhoods where it doesn't belong," said Fritz. "If we design it right, the neighbors will love it."

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