An upzone on Alberta would turn a parking lot into 50 below-market-rate homes, builder says

The upzone proposal needs to find one more vote at city council on Wednesday.

by Michael Andersen | April 21, 2018

The parking lot at the top center of this Google Maps image is currently associated with Alberta Abbey. A proposed upzone would allow 50 below-market-rate homes and a ground-floor retail space for a group of local Black entrepreneurs.

An affordable-housing developer has a proposal to preserve an historic Alberta Street church as an arts and culture venue while adding about 50 new homes, all of them affordable to lower-income Portlanders.

The project would also create 15,000 square feet of new “permanently affordable” street-level retail space, according to Rich Rodgers, the Portland-based development manager for California-based Community Development Partners. It’d happen on a parking lot currently associated with Alberta Abbey, the former church across the street.

All the homes would be affordable to people making no more than 60 percent of the local median income, currently $31,380 for a single person or $40,380 for a family of three.

As for the retail space, Rodgers said the company isn’t counting on any revenue from it, instead aiming to partner with Prosper Portland to lease or sell it at a below-market rate to a new group for local Black entrepreneurs, or some other use consistent with the N/NE Community Development Initiative.

Rendering: Waechter Architecture.

The catch: According to Rodgers, a longtime local housing advocate, his company’s full plan requires upzoning the lot to CM2 — the same as much of Alberta a few blocks away, east of Martin Luther King Boulevard, and a bit smaller than the buildings allowed two blocks away, those immediately west of MLK.

The developer’s request is to upzone the parking lot to CM2 (a five-story building with sidewalk-facing retail), the same level as the areas in orange. The areas in pink are currently zoned CM3, one step larger.

The lot facing Alberta, three blocks west of MLK, is currently zoned R2.5 (duplexes).

A half-measure is also possible: city staff has already recommended that the city council upzone the lot to R1. That’d be enough to allow stacked homes with no sidewalk retail. Rodgers says that if that happens, the church will still be preserved and entered on the historic register, but the parking lot will be able to support a three-story affordable group home of only about 28 units.

With the full upzone, Rodgers added, the final building might end up with fewer than 50 below-market homes, but if so more of them would be family-sized.

The upzoning decision comes before Portland’s city council on Wednesday.

Rodgers said Portland Commissioner Chloe Eudaly has proposed a full upzone to CM2 and Commissioner Nick Fish has promised his support, too. With Mayor Ted Wheeler scheduled to be out of town next week, an upzone would also require support from either Commissioner Dan Saltzman or Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

At least one group of nearby residents is organizing opposition to the project. Their literature does not mention that the proposal would preserve the Abbey and designate it as historic, that all the apartments would be affordable to Portlanders making 60 percent of median income or less.

To be fair, some neighbors say they received very little information about the project while it was being planned.

If you’d like to weigh in yourself, go here and click the “testify” button, or email the city before 8 a.m. on Tuesday, April 24, at cpmaprefinement@portlandoregon.gov, with your name and home address. If you say you support “Amendment 19," that means you support Eudaly’s upzoning proposal based on the Community Development Partners affordable housing plan.

If you say you oppose Amendment 19, that means you support the upzone to R1 that would create fewer below-market homes and no commercial space on this site.

As of 2016, the Welcome Home Coalition estimated that the Portland metro area needs more than 63,000 more homes affordable to low and very-low income residents. That November, city voters overwhelmingly passed a property tax measure to build or acquire at least 1,300 such homes, but so far none have begun construction — in large part, the city has said, because of the difficulty of finding development sites close to transit and jobs.

Portland for Everyone supports abundant, diverse, affordable housing. This is a reported blog about how to get more of those things. You can follow it on Twitter and Facebook or get new posts by email a few times each month.