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Pearl District residents seek to block proposed apartment tower over bridge, river views

Published on February 22, 2018 12:01AM

Pearl District residents seek to block proposed apartment tower over bridge, river views

Residents of the Pearl District on Wednesday asked the Portland City Council to block construction of a 185-foot apartment tower on the shore of the Willamette River.

Dallas-based Lincoln Property Co. has proposed the 17-story Fremont Apartments on a site currently used as a parking lot. It would include 275 market-rate apartments and space for a ground-floor restaurant, as well as a public plaza on its north side.

But some residents of the Pearl District say the building will block views of the Willamette River and the Fremont Bridge. And, they say, the development, and future developments of similar scale, would serve to wall off the river.

The issue filled the Portland City Council chambers and an overflow room, and dozens of people spoke on the issue.

While any decision is weeks away, the testimony highlighted a tension in growing Portland: how to fit more people in the central areas the city has worked so hard to make desirable.

Neighbors argued the building five to eight stories tall facing the river encroaches on the Willamette River Greenway, an effort to piece together a continuous trail along the river. Opponents said the building would cast the trail in shadow and that, at just under 13 feet wide, the trail would be too narrow for bicycle and pedestrian use.

"What we're talking about in a nutshell is project that might work elsewhere on a city black away from the river," said Jeffrey Kleinman, an attorney for the Pearl District Neighborhood Association, "but not on this site."

But others who spoke in favor of the project said the neighbors are simply trying to prevent the development of new, dense housing with added irony in a neighborhood already filled with high-rise housing.

"This building is exactly what was planned," said Patricia Gardener, a former Pearl District Neighborhood Association president who no longer lives in the district. "This was the place the Pearl District was going to grab the river. That's what the building code said because that's what we planned on doing."

The developer could build a wider structure up to 100 feet tall by right, which would also block the view from the park. The building's designers said they shifted to a tower to reduce the impact by blocking only a portion of the view of the bridge.

The design takes advantage of several density bonuses for including housing, bicycle facilities and a "green roof" covered with vegetation to absorb stormwater.

The development was proposed in 2016, before the city passed a requirement for developments to include rent-restricted units for low-income residents.

The Fremont Apartments design was approved by the Portland Design Commission late last year.

The neighborhood association's appeal takes it before the Portland City Council, which must weigh it against the city's code and neighborhood's design guidelines.

The council made no ruling and did not deliberate on the issue Wednesday. It's expected to discuss the issue the morning on March 7.

-- Elliot Njus 503-294-5034 @enjus


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