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Summary Meeting Notes: July 24, 2013 Neighborhood Centers PEG Meeting

Meeting #14 Summary Notes

Neighborhood Centers Policy Expert Group
Meeting Date: July 24, 2013
Time: 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.
PEG Attendees: Kate Allen, Jason Barnstead-Long, Kristin Cooper, Alan DeLaTorre, Justin Douglas, Ivy Dunlap, Allen Field, Ryan Givens, Bob Granger, Brett Horner, Denver Igarta, Carol Mayer-Reed, Rick Michelson, Nick Sauvie

Key Points and Outcomes

  • Greater policy clarity is needed on the infrastructure expectations for centers and corridors, and there needs to be a strong local role in identifying desired outcomes and priorities for each center. 
  • Addressing the many infrastructure issues in East Portland centers, such as the lack of complete pedestrian systems and parks, will require a clear understanding of desired outcomes, a strategic and phased approach to improvements, alignment of existing tools and programs to help support centers, and new implementation approaches.
  • Town center policy aspirations may not be achievable within the next 20 years, but enhancing street connectivity should be worked on incrementally and kept as a long term goal, and improving the design, safety, and comfort along major streets should be an early priority.

Welcome, Introductions and Updates (3:00 p.m.)

Presenter: Steve Faust, Facilitator and Bill Cunningham, BPS

Summary: Steve welcomed Centers PEG members and guests.  Following introductions, Steve thanked members who participated in a productive meeting with the Networks PEG about parking in neighborhood centers and the relationship between centers and corridors.  PEG members should have received the summary notes from that meeting.  The next Centers PEG meeting will be a cross-PEG meeting with the Residential Development and Compatibility PEG on August 13 from 3 to 5 pm to discuss transitions in size and scale from centers to adjacent residential neighborhoods.  This will replace the regularly scheduled Neighborhood Centers PEG meeting for August. There may be a PEG meeting in September to review the Comprehensive Plan Map tool that will be used at the Fall public meetings, but this has not yet been finalized.  The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is also considering holding an “All-PEGs” meeting in October to discuss Comprehensive Plan Part 2 products

Citywide Systems Plan (3:15 p.m.)

Presenters: Michelle Kunek-North and Spencer Williams, BPS

Summary: This discussion is intended to provide a bridge from policy discussions about centers to the Citywide Systems Plan’s focus on projects and implementation.  Successful centers are areas with local access to services, businesses and amenities, offer employment opportunities, are a focus for housing growth, and are hubs for active transportation.  Using the potential center at SE 122nd and Division as an example, this exercise provides an opportunity to consider the implications of center policies on infrastructure investments, including parks and street improvements.

The SE 122nd Avenue and Division/Powell area has a concentration of services and people and actually has greater population density than any of Portland’s Metro 2040 Town Centers, such as Hollywood, Lents and Hillsdale.  It shares some similarities with those centers, but also has many differences.  Compared to the City of Portland as a whole, the area is more diverse and has a greater concentration of poverty, lower levels of education, lower median household incomes, and larger households with more children.  The Gentrification and Displacement Study characterizes the area as having a high portion of vulnerable population, but it is not an area that is considered to be at risk of gentrification.

Zoning is diverse with a mix of single-family, multi-family and commercial/mixed use designations, and the area is part of a broader 122nd Avenue corridor that has a large amount of medium-density multi-family zoning.  The center area has zoning to accommodate about 7,000 households, which is the threshold for town centers.  The area offers community services, two grocery stories, a health clinic, schools, and places of worship. 

In terms of transportation and parks infrastructure, there is a lack of bicycle and pedestrian connectivity. There are a number of substandard streets and sidewalk and bike infrastructure is largely limited to the main arterials: SE 122nd Avenue and SE Division (the area’s other main arterial, SE Powell, lacks continuous sidewalks).  Frequent transit service is available on Division and Powell and standard service is offered on 122nd.  122nd is a potential streetcar route and Division has been identified as a potential regional high capacity transit corridor.  A number of roadway, bike and sidewalk improvements are planned in the area.

The only park in the study area is West Powellhurst Park, but the lack of street connections limit its walkable accessibility to area residents.  The Mill Park site, located just outside the center boundaries, is undeveloped.  The lack of any secondary east-west connections through the center between Division and Powell forces pedestrians to make longer out-of-direction trips and to use the busy major arterial streets to access area parks and schools, which are typically located at the center of superblocks.

PEG member comments included:

  • This center is currently best described as an auto-oriented neighborhood center. The transition to a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood center will take many years due to the lack of pedestrian connections and the large sums of money needed to complete the street network. 
  • Is sufficient pedestrian infrastructure practical in the short term, or is a more automobile-oriented center acceptable? Considering the area’s layout and infrastructure, is it feasible to make walking an attractive option for accessing local destinations? Should the focus be on strengthening the center to allow area residents to make shorter trips by automobile trips?
  • The center has urban density, but lacks urban levels of infrastructure, which many area residents consider to be unacceptable. 
  • The area needs a street plan and money to build it. An upcoming transportation project will help address street connectivity within this area and around Division.
  • Need to address the fact that no east-west connection exists allowing pedestrian access through the center between Division and Powell.
  • The area has some east-west bicycle connections (toward Downtown), but lacks good connections to local destinations.  A major issue is the lack of secondary streets providing low-stress connections not to other destinations, forcing bicycles onto the busy arterials, which do not feel safe for many people.
  • Need to consider where destinations are concentrated in targeting improvements.  The area has two nodes with concentrations of service, at Division and at Powell.  Start with improving access to these nodes and then work outwards. 
  • Strengthen connections between the Division and Powell nodes with pedestrian-oriented streetscape improvements and more development along 122nd.  There is a large bus yard located on 122nd that could serve as a catalyst redevelopment site.
  • The area will not become a pedestrian-oriented center without major investments in sidewalks and street connections, but the City does not have resources for this.  Perhaps the initial focus should be on improving sidewalks on the major streets, providing more safe crossings, and focusing on new connections to the Division and Powell nodes.
  • The major arterials are big, auto-oriented streets that will never be pedestrian-friendly places. Need to create good, comfortable secondary east-west streets that can be a focus for pedestrian-oriented commercial development. Need to look at other neighborhoods to see what works (for example,Mississippi and Alberta are the popular pedestrian-oriented commercial streets in Albina, not heavily trafficked MLK).
  • There needs to be greater clarity about what the expectations are for centers and what the policy implications are for infrastructure investments.  For example, perhaps there should be policy support for using SDCs for local street improvements in centers, and clear priority for locating parks within centers.
  • There needs to be strong local role in creating a clear understanding of desired outcomes for each center.  Align public investments with a vision for the area in order to leverage resources and coordinate efforts.  New funding mechanisms and tools are probably needed.
  • An inner-city grid street network cannot be reproduced without major investments, but linking the bicycle and pedestrian networks to major streets, schools and commercial destinations is important. 
  • Need to address the mistrust of City agencies and planning that exists in the community.
  • Respect existing homes and people in the area.  Explore design solutions that may support existing development pattern while prioritizing pedestrian and bicycle connections. In order to achieve, need to address neighborhood issues around privacy and fear of illicit activity.
  • The guiding question should be, how does the community prioritize improvements?  The local community needs to define the next steps.
  • Need to identify the most efficient investments, those that will do the most to improve things. 
  • What are the most critical actions across the city?  Serving vulnerable populations should be a priority.  Address big issues and gaps in service in dense areas and growing areas as a first priority.
  • There is an opportunity for an expanded community center role forWest Powellhurstelementary school and the adjacent park. Policy supports schools as centers of community, expanding use in these facilities.  There are five elementary schools in the vicinity. 
  • Focus on access to schools.  Need to encourage more trips to these destinations by foot and bike.  Big streets present barriers.  Better crossings and street environments are needed.
  • Locate accessible housing and infrastructure close to transit and the area’s nodes of services to ensure mobility for all ages and abilities.
  • Large housing developments and mixed-use parcels provide opportunities to provide key connections and urban amenities.
  • Need to clearly articulate what a town center is, perhaps clarifying that the center boundaries do not include single-family areas in order to be more strategic with investments. 
  • Consider the role that adjacent single family and multi-family areas play in shaping centers, such as a diverse market base, greater support to commercial areas, and existing parks and schools.
  • Need to phase improvements, given all the area’s deficiencies.  Start with strengthening the local business areas through the Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative (NPI) along 122nd and Division, then expand on this to make the area a successful center.  Engage NPI participants in identifying what improvements are needed to foster the area as a center. 
  • Town center policy aspirations may not be achievable within the next 20 years, but enhancing street connectivity should be worked on incrementally and kept as a long term goal, and improving the design, safety, and comfort along major streets should be an early priority.

Comprehensive Plan Map Update (4:15 p.m.)

Presenters: Debbie Bischoff, BPS

Summary: The Comprehensive Plan Map is one of the products of Phase 2.  The Comprehensive Plan Map is a long-range, aspirational document that shows where the City would like to develop in the future.  Each property has a comprehensive plan designation and a current zoning designation.  In most places, these are the same.  The map helps ensure the City has sufficient long range capacity to accommodate housing and employment, reflects Plan goals and policies and helps implement the design framework.

Some map changes are needed now, while others can be made during refinement planning at the community level.  This update is strategic in that the City is looking for the most important changes in terms of meeting the City’s long term goals.  Several types of changes will be considered:

  1. Requests from individual property owners.
  2. Staff recommendations (including Central City recommendations already identified through the Central City 2035 public process).
  3. Address non-conforming uses.  There are several variations of non-confirming uses and some are intentional.  Others should be addressed to resolve conflicts between the map and current uses.
  4. Clean up split zone tax lots.
  5. Resolve differences between the Comprehensive Plan and zoning maps.
  6. Open space zoning for parks.

Other sources of proposed changes include neighborhood associations and previous community plans.  District planners are gathering information and compiling proposed changes in a database.  A Working Map will be presented to public in the Fall.  The map includes existing conditions, concepts (e.g. centers and corridors) and land uses.  Evaluation criteria for making decisions are derived from Portland Plan goals and policies, as well as key strategies, such as addressing equity.

PEG member discussion included:

  • Some light rail station areas have industrial zoning that should be reconsidered. 
  • Staff indicated thatPortlandhas a shortfall of industrial land and is considering opportunities to address this.  There is a reluctance to lose employment capacity near light rail stations, some of which may be fostered as “employment-focused” transit-oriented development areas, instead of the more typical emphasis on mixed residential/commercial development.  The City is also considering other opportunities for expanding employment lands and capacity, such as addressing brownfield constraints, increasing efficiency of existing industrial lands and improving freight infrastructure, allowing more employment uses in commercial areas, being more strategic about focusing on the highest-value natural resource areas in places such as the Columbia Corridor, and rezoning golf courses in that area to industrial.
  • One PEG member asked that the City not look to golf courses as the first source of future industrial lands, as these are recreational resources, and instead to look at redesignating residential or retail areas.
  • Non-conforming uses in eastern areas are a result of annexation and rezoning with little property owner input.  Property owners need to be involved in this process.  Three sets of stakeholders should be engaged in the process:  (1) current property owners to ensure no takings or restriction of current uses, (2) immediate neighbors in cases where potential upzoning is being considered, and (3) the City of Portland to provide a broader perspective and ensure decisions are made to further the goals of the Comprehensive Plan.
  • Prioritizing neighborhood commercial uses in underserved areas also should be considered.  Also consider addressing non-conforming corner retail, and making it easier to convert structures originally built for retail to be converted back to their original use (former corner retail structures are sometimes located within residential areas, but would function better if they could be retail again).  Consider designating these corner retail properties as conditional uses to address concerns about inappropriate uses.
  • Need to allow more micro-businesses in residential areas.  Houses often cannot meet the electrical needs of some home-based operations, but Denver has successfully piloted light-industrial uses in mixed-use residential areas.  Another consideration is whether the current desired use, such as a café, may change over time into a less desirable use.

Next Steps (4:55 p.m.)

There may be an All-PEG meeting in the Fall to discuss Phase 2 products, including the Urban Design Framework, the Comprehensive Plan Map and the CSP.  The Centers PEG may also be convened in September to review and comment on the mapping application that will be used at the Fall community workshops. Some PEG members indicated that they would like to have the PEG reconvened at future points when Comprehensive Plan products are ready for review.  Staff indicated that a possibility for a future check-in with the PEG could be between the Fall workshops and release of the Proposed Draft, which will be an appropriate time to resolve major issues.

Adjourn (5:00 p.m.)

For more information, please contact Bill Cunningham, Bureau of Planning and Sustainability at 503-823-4203 or Bill.Cunningham@portlandoregon.gov or Steve Faust, Facilitator at 503-278-3456 or steve.faust@coganowens.com. 

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