Monday, August 27, 2007

Towering Monstrosity, Part III

I almost didn't hie myself downtown this morning to the hearing on the new "erector set" emergency communications tower planned for exquisite Council Crest Park. The high cards always seem to be in the hands of the "experts" and the land-use attorneys at these hearings.

Then I reread the approval criteria for the 43-story-high tower and the cavalier dismissal of one particular criterion (more on that later) by the Bureau of Developmental Services staff. It made me angry enough to snap on my crash helmet, mount my trusty Chinese "Milano" motor scooter, and scoot right down to the hearing.

In the convenience shop on the ground floor of the planning building, I bellied my way into a discussion that Jim Thayer, president of the Southwest Hills Residential League, was having with staff from the Portland Bureau of Technology Services, the folks pushing for the "erector set" design in one of Portland's most beloved parks.

Seems Jim had read my objections here (and here) on "Red." As an alternative I had proposed that the city use a windmill tower instead of the "lattice" design to give the tower some artistic pizazz. The technology services guys didn't like the idea. It didn't help my cause that The Oregonian carried a story this morning that one of the towers at a wind farm near Wasco had snapped over the weekend killing a construction worker.

The tech guys said the 20-story wind towers weren't high enough for emergency communication and homeland security (read "protection against terrorists").

All I knew was that Council Crest Park and those who view the West Hills from all over the city deserve better than one ugly tower replacing another corroded, 50-year-old ugly tower.

And I thought I had found the language in the official criteria to make my case, namely: the project should "enrich neighborhoods and the southwest community as a whole with ample accessible and well-maintained parks and open spaces. Preserve and enhance the natural habitat features of Southwest Portland's parks and open spaces...."

I seized on the words "enrich" and "enhance." The new "lattice" tower would do neither. It was just more of the same utilitarian ugliness. Unworthy of a Portland etc.

In January, when the city tech guys visited the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association, the neighbors were cool to the plans for just this reason.

So I thought the criterion had merit as an arguing point until someone in the pre-hearing klatch muttered that a stronger, corrosion-free emergency communications tower was "enriching" and "enhancing" because it would help fight terrorism (and, presumably, evil)


Somehow I didn't think that was what the criterion's authors had in mind.

Never mind.

Interpreting the authors' intention will be up to the hearing's officer, one Gregory Frank.

Staring into a hearing room microphone, I laid out my case, for the record, to Officer Frank.

Several others from the SWHRL neighborhood were present, but only two spoke (one was Thayer), but they were concerned only about what would happen to access to the park during construction. Privately, one neighbor speculated to me that the tower might prove a hazard during an earthquake because it could topple unenrichingly and unenhancingly onto the life-sustaining neighborhood water tank.

But I was the only one to invoke civic pride and beauty through my suggestion that the clunky "erector set" tower would in no way "enhance" or "enrich."

For some reason I'm hearing Ronald Reagan's line to Walter Mondale (or was it Jimmy Carter?) being applied to me, "There he goes again."

Yep, there I go again.

The record on this matter will be left open for another three weeks until Sept 14 (thanks to Water Bureau objections — Don't ask. You don't want to know, but it was weird, as Frank noted, to have one city bureau delay action on another's project.)

So y'all are invited to comment by writing to Hearings Officer Frank, at 1900 SW Fourth Avenue, Rm 3100, Portland, Or 97201. The case file number is LU 07-137780 CU ZE.

And you got it right, they don't take e-mail. In so many ways, Portland is still in an erector set state of mind.

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