For the last few years, as construction cranes have sprouted around Portland, the Buckman neighborhood—despite its prime location in inner Southeast Portland—has been largely skipped over by developers. The neighborhood association's land-use committee didn't even bother holding a regular meeting.
"We'd have [meetings] when issues came up," says Susan Lindsay, chair of the Buckman Community Association (BCA).
Instead, Buckman's residents have kept busy working on things like the high number of social service agencies in their neighborhood, and convincing the city to fix the Buckman Pool.
"We've been focusing more on livability issues," says neighbor Christine Yun.
That all changed in July, when developers came to the BCA meeting to talk about a big mixed-use condo project they had planned for SE 20th, between Morrison and Alder. "Everyone was surprised," says Yun, who lives across the street from the site. "It wasn't on anybody's radar."
Neighbors trounced the sleek, 40-unit project at the July meeting—at that point, the developers were seeking a zoning change to allow for more units. Citing Buckman's historic character, neighbors say the modern design of the proposed project isn't a good fit. Residents were also peeved that two old houses would be demolished to build the condos (tenants in one of the houses had just moved in), and they were concerned that the condos' residents won't interact with the neighborhood.
Folks like Yun hoped they could work with the developers to tweak the design, and help it fit into Buckman. But the developers—likely turned off by the tense July meeting—didn't come back to the neighborhood association until a meeting last Thursday night, September 28.
In the faculty lounge at Central Catholic High School, a handful of neighbors and the development team from Meridian Group NW diplomatically discussed the project—it's been scaled back to fit the current code for the site. "They're under no obligation to even listen to the neighborhood," explained a city-planning liaison who attended the meeting. But the developers agreed to keep communication open with a small group of neighborhood representatives.
The project, however, is unlikely to change dramatically at this stage, and Yun reports that the developers aren't able to meet with neighbors again until mid-October. She feels like the talks are being delayed "until it's too late for our input."
Meanwhile, there's more development on the horizon for Buckman, including a proposed 123-unit condo project just a few blocks from the 20th and Morrison site. In response, Buckman's land-use committee is now meeting monthly, and neighbors hope to craft stronger design guidelines for their community, including things like pushing for affordable family housing. The contentious project at 20th and Morrison, Lindsay says, "is a wake-up call to what can happen at any time in Buckman."