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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Council Questions $1.12 Million Tax Break for North Williams Apartments

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Wed, Aug 26, 2009 at 3:17 PM

Neighborhood opponents of the Albert Apartment project finally got their say in front of City Council this morning. And it sounded like Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish might have been swayed by their concerns about the 72 apartments planned for the former House of Sound lot on North Williams.

The Design Commission recommended the Albert Apartments receive a $1.12 million tax abatement over ten years from the Portland Development Commission, since the project meets the city's transit oriented development (TOD) guidelines. But, as
discussed on Blogtown in July, the project's critics say the project isn't worth a $1.12 million subsidy. The apartments are a quarter-mile from the buses on MLK Avenue and the "public benefits" that qualify the project for public money are its provision of ground-floor commercial space, LEED silver certification and a single car share space.

Also revealed at council this morning is that the open space required of the project will be mostly comprised of a surface parking lot.

"If this is truly a transit-oriented development, why are 48 parking spots being included?" Portlander Cathy Galbraith asked council.

"We have serious questions about whether the public benefit in this 72 unit building justifies the abatement. When we can’t fund schools, at the same time we’re giving $1.2 million a way," opined neighbor Tracy Olson.

Commissioner Fritz raised the same questions. "I’m concerned about the public benefits the developer was provided to choose from. They could provide one car share space or on that same list, make twenty percent of the units be handicap accessible. It doesn’t seem like those should be on the same level." Fritz also asked whether the public benefits of outweighed the unwanted impact on the neighborhood, "the height and bulk of the building on a street that is not a major transit route. " A complete list of public benefits a developer can include to snag public dollars is here.

Seemingly upset at the design note that some of the Albert's bedrooms will have no windows (and that the developer didn't know whether all the windowless bedrooms will be in the project's 18 affordable units), Fritz asked, "How would you meet LEED silver if you constantly have to have a light on in the bedroom?"

Commissioner Fish agreed that the criteria for qualifying for millions in tax breaks needs to be "scrubbed carefully." Fish asked, "Are we getting our bang for the buck? At what point do you revisit the basic ground rules?" But Fish also concluded that it would be a little harsh to submit the Albert Apartments to new criteria retroactively. "If we conclude that the developer followed all the rules and it meets our criteria and we still come away with a building that the neighborhood objects to, is it our role at this point to yank to abatement?"

Council plans to vote on the tax abatement next week.

Albert Apartments - 56 vertical feet of (technically) transit oriented development
  • Albert Apartments - 56 vertical feet of (technically) transit oriented development

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