chris ryan

If it were up to the residents of Linnton—a neighborhood on the northwest outskirts of Portland—construction crews would arrive tomorrow and start building hundreds of condos.

"Most neighborhoods are fighting against infill," says Linnton's Ross Folberg, a neighborhood resident for the past four years, who maintains the Linnton Neighborhood Association website. "And we're asking for it."

There are roughly 500 households in this isolated, fiercely independent neighborhood. Houses dot a steep hillside backed up against Forest Park, while cafés, a few shops, and a gas station line busy Highway 30, which bisects the town. The sliver of land between the neighborhood's shops and the Willamette River holds remnants of its industrial history: Trains amble past hulking white tanks full of petroleum products, a shuttered plywood mill, and a recycling yard for railway tracks.

It's here that Linnton residents envision plunking down a new residential development. Neighbors want to turn the 34 acres of industrial land into a mixed-use town center—complete with 450 residential units, retail, and "buffer zones" that separate the housing from the petroleum tanks. "We would like to see condos, a park, access to the beach for the public, stores, shops, and art galleries," says Linnton resident Kerrigan Gray. "We know what's best for our town."

The development, Linnton residents say, will add jobs and residents, revitalizing a neighborhood that was decimated in the '60s when the state bulldozed half the businesses to widen the highway. Building along the river would also relieve development on Linnton's steep hillside. And the project could pour $4 million into the city's coffers annually, neighbors contend.

Residents began working on the plan in 1993, but it took off a few years ago. "I got talked into being the neighborhood land-use chairman," says Gray. "I dusted this plan off, and put it before the neighborhood association. There was a unanimous vote to push it through the city [Portland]."

But despite the possible benefits, the plan has been a tough sell with the city: Officials are wary of losing industrial land in Portland, and industrial lobbyists are pressuring the city to keep the slice of Linnton as is, zoned for heavy industrial use. Earlier this fall, the Portland Planning Commission issued a report that recommended keeping heavy industrial zoning and adding just 32 housing units—a plan that falls far short of the neighborhood's demands.

"We're going to end up with heavy industrial there that nobody wants and nobody likes," Gray says.

So on the afternoon of Saturday, November 19, dozens of residents converged on the sunny sidewalk outside their neighborhood community center. Some donned stickers declaring their love for Linnton, while others, like Folberg and Gray, passed around a giant architectural drawing of the development plan. Earlier, residents had hung homemade posters on a weathered metal fish sculpture marking the entrance to Linnton—and on sandwich boards throughout the neighborhood—welcoming Mayor Tom Potter.

Neighbors are waging a campaign: They're demanding the city "stick with the plan" Linnton residents came up with, in hopes that a developer like Homer Williams—well known for his Pearl District and South Waterfront projects—will buy, and build on the site. So far, they've got Commissioner Sam Adams on board. On Saturday, they hoped to win over the mayor. The issue will likely go before city council in the spring.

"I loved the sign coming into town," Potter said when he arrived after lunch. Folberg and Gray nabbed a few minutes to present the development drawings to Potter, while Pat Wagner, the Linnton Neighborhood Association president, rounded up the neighborhood troops for a walking tour. Once they reached the riverfront, neighbors took turns sidling up to Potter to personally persuade him to back their plan.

Meanwhile, Neighborhood President Wagner tracked down Gil Kelley, director of the city's Bureau of Planning, who'd come along for the neighbors' tour. The two debated the plan, with Wagner warning of the likely outcome if Linnton doesn't get more residents, pronto.

"The city spends hundreds of thousands of dollars creating communities elsewhere," Wagner argued. If the city favors industry over housing in the neighborhood, "Linnton will die," she said. "To a lose a community like this is a travesty."