Monday, December 18, 2006

It's all downhill from here, or is it?

Lance Johnson wants to shoehorn 10 small lots with houses and duplexes on a large lot that now is the site of his house and large lot in Hillsdale.

His proposal came before a City of Portland hearings officer today, and some of us expressed what is politely known as "concerns." Bottom line is that we opposed Johnson's plans.

The division would take place in the Hillsdale Triangle, which is the land between SW 18th, Sunset Boulevard and Capitol Highway (see map. The darkened parcel is Johnson's). Much of it has been zoned for higher density, in keeping with the "Town Center" concept. Higher density is well and good, and inevitable, particularly in places that are as well served by bus lines as Hillsdale is. The "up zoning," which was approved 10 years ago by the City Council as part of the Hillsdale Town Center Plan, allows Johnson to push for his lot division.

The problem is that his development doesn't take into account his neighbors or a rational approach to what should happen in the triangle as a whole.

Clearly a master plan for the triangle is needed, which is what representatives of the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association advocated today. (I was one of those testifying. I am a HNA board member.)

Johnson's immediate problem has to do with sewage. Excrement, as we all know, is subject to the laws of gravity. Gravity and the flow of excrement initially forced Johnson to propose raising the grade on the sloping property, to the detriment of potential neighboring development. It also jeopardized preservation of trees on his site. Accordingly, city planners recommended against Johnson's current plan, and Johnson has been forced to revisit to the drawing board. He's hopeful because City engineers say that rather than raise his lots, he might be able to sink the sewer, to 30 feet.

That is deep doo-doo indeed.

The Neighborhood Association wants the whole project rethought to take into account the need for open space and pedestrian paths in the triangle.

And some neighbors may want to invoke restrictive private covenants that require a majority home-owners' approval of lot divisions within the 40-year-old subdivision.

Johnson clearly has his hands full. The good news is that he is forcing everyone to come to terms with the potential of developing the Hillsdale Triangle.

His goal, and ours, should be to do it right.

For now, the hearings officer has "left the record open" until the end of January. What the record says then will determine what he decides about the Hillsdale Triangle.

If we, or Johnson, don't like his decision, we can appeal to the City Council. Ideally, it won't come to that.


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