Last Friday morning, August 25, in the lobby of the CoHo Theater on NW Raleigh, neighbors gathered around a folding table to pore over a just-released city staff report on a proposed parking garage.
The following Monday, the city's Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) would consider the garage proposal, slated for NW Irving, just west of 23rd. The neighbors, members of the Northwest District Association Planning Committee, were plotting out their critiques of the 103-parking-space brick structure, debating specifics, like how many driveways the garage would have, or the "window patterning" of the building.
Ten minutes in, one neighbor was already frustrated with focusing on the nitty-gritty design details of the parking garage. "Obviously, what most of us are against is the garage itself," he said. Others agreed. "This is the best served mass transit area in Portland. What the hell are we doing putting in a parking structure?" the committee chair, John Bradley, said.
This isn't the first time neighbors have vented over this parking garage: It's been a point of contention for several years.
Originally, a neighborhood citizens advisory committee came up with a plan to address Northwest's parking woes by managing existing spaces with parking meters throughout the neighborhood and permits which would exempt residents. The neighborhood association signed off on the plan, but businesses ultimately balked, demanding that parking structures be added to the mix—the neighborhood needed more spaces, the businesses claimed.
So the neighborhood discussed parking structures, and came up with a handful of sites where garages might work in cooperation with the meters and permits. The city council, however, revised the neighborhood's "NW District Plan" in a close 2003 vote, dumping the meters and permits in favor of garages alone. Specifically, the council approved six possible garage sites, including one—the NW Irving site of the current garage proposal—that neighbors were opposed to, because half of it is in the residential zone.
Fast forward to 2006: Neighbors took the NW District Plan to court and lost on the garage issue (but won on a separate issue, which the city still needs to revisit). A few Northwest neighbors are now looking wistfully at places like the SE Hawthorne Business District, where parking meters are up for debate, while others have put signs in their yard saying, "The Northwest District is being sold out." Meanwhile, a prominent neighborhood developer, Dick Singer, is close to finally building the parking garage.
"We're going to get a parking garage here, instead of [our] plan," explains Chris Smith, a transportation activist who lives in the neighborhood.
Indeed, plenty of neighbors believe the garage will do little to alleviate parking troubles in Northwest. They point to paid surface lots in the neighborhood, which usually have available spaces, and say that without meters, drivers are likely to hunt the neighborhood for free parking instead of paying to park in the garage.
At Monday's HLC meeting, Singer—the developer—made his pitch for the garage. "It's much needed in NW Portland, and has been many years in the making," he said. "It has been discussed with many folks in the neighborhood, and we've gotten a tremendous amount of feedback." He reiterated his commitment to quality buildings that fit into the historic neighborhood.
Despite Singer's efforts—and despite advice from the HLC to stick to the design issues at hand—neighbors rallied against the garage, decrying the traffic and air pollution it might encourage, and revisiting the old political wounds.
"Is it really good public policy to destroy a home and replace it with a parking garage, in an area well served by public transit?" one neighbor asked.
The owner of the house that will abut the garage once it's built—the current plan has the garage wall just three feet from the house—wrote in to the HLC: "Although I oppose it, I am too upset to speak today. My written comments are forthcoming."
The HLC did not make a decision on the garage on Monday, instead asking the architects to revisit several design issues by late September.