Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Down With High Rises

Recently we've seen both a relentless raft of City-enabled, high-rise, hive-like rental apartment buildings, most of them with little or no parking for residents. The backlash from neighborhoods has been considerable but in most cases the developers prevail after applying for and gaining variances from the land use bureau and the City.

In Manhattan, which started as with a manageable skyline and exploded into dark corridors of skyscrapers, the only way to go was up because of the borough's bedrock foundation. That foundation made it an ideal location for highrises and skyscrapers. This isn't the case in Portland.

Rather than swapping FAR rights and applying for variances that result in buildings that don't suit a neighborhood or are too tall, the City should stand firm. If a developer wants to build a 10-story apartment building in a part of town where the limit is 6-stories, for instance, the City should say, "Fine, but 4 of those stories must be underground." This would be particularly valuable for two reasons:

1) The City used to have a guideline that said that building heights must trend DOWN as they approach the waterfront so that views are not impeded. Nobody is paying attention to this at the South Waterfront (the infamous "So What", home of "Boon" and "Doggle" the twin trams to OHSU) and so I must assume that once again variances are in play (propelled by money) or the rule is no longer an active one. Under my new rule, the developers could construct buildings with unlimited floors, except all but 6 stories would have to be underground.

2) Because high rollers would probably prefer to live above ground in units with coveted river views, the above-ground apartments could rent for market or premium rates. The underground units would be priced affordably so that people who don't own a soccer team (for instance) could afford to rent in Portland . . . something that is becoming more and more impossible, the closer one gets to downtown, on less than a base salary of $50,000 to $60,000 a year. This amount is, by the way, above the average income of Portland residents.

Fairy tale planning that posits that apartments built near a bus or MAX will magically attract people without cars is just that. A fairy tale. We shouldn't be buying into this poor planning. These small "flats" without parking may cater successfully to the current crop of young creatives, but populations change. When the people looking for apartments are older or have families, who will rent the cells in these "hives?"

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