Free Parking 

The Central Eastside Is a Petri Dish

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PARKING HAS BECOME something of a war in the Central Eastside Industrial District, now home to parking meters and time limits after a controversial new enforcement push was approved last summer.

And the latest combatant as that conflict escalates—albeit an unwilling one—is one of the city's major construction players: Beam Development.

Beam found itself in the city’s crosshairs this fall after anonymous complaints to the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) and the neighborhood's transportation committee revealed the company had been improperly charging tenants for public parking outside its building at SE Taylor and Water.

"There was a misunderstanding, a legacy thing," says Jonathan Malsin, Beam's operations director. "The previous owner had been doing that 12 years ago. We're playing ball with the city. We wanted to be good neighbors."

But Beam won't face any sanction.

After offering to annex all of SE Taylor between Water and Interstate 5, it's instead agreed to lease some, but not all, of the parking it had been occupying. The solution was helped along by the neighborhood's new transportation and parking committee. But it still has neighbors in the rapidly developing industrial district—home to new restaurants, shops, a streetcar line, and, soon, light rail—watching warily.

Although the lease deal adds a few more public spaces, it's raised concerns about a precedent in which large businesses—with the cash to do business with the city—can crowd out smaller businesses.

"We don't want city streets to become a parking war where adjacent businesses all lease the stalls in front of their buildings," says one neighborhood observer. "That could be a real issue. We don't want every other business to go out and do that, too."

According to the parking plan the city council approved last year, parking demand among workers could triple in the coming years. That would come as development eats up some of the district's many surface lots.

Dylan Rivera, a PBOT spokesman, says the lease would reflect market rates and that "it's not unheard of." It's also not, he says, undertaken lightly.

"It's a challenging area," he says, "where we're trying to balance diverse interests. A lot of big changes are afoot."

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