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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Council Okays Tax Break for N. Williams Project

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Wed, Sep 9, 2009 at 4:02 PM

The controversial $1.12 million tax abatement for the Albert Apartments project got four thumbs up from city council this morning, as all the commissioners except Amanda Fritz decided that the 72-unit project's benefits are worth public investment.

The design and character of the building planned for the former House of Sound lot on N. Williams raised neighbors' ire. Most recently, neighborhood resident Tracy Olson emailed council questioning whether the project even fell within the "transit oriented development" zone that stretches out for a quarter mile from MLK Avenue.

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Commissioner Fish's office did a computerized mapping of the area and found the new project is 200 feet within the border of the special development zone but the fact that the project just meets the city's thin criteria for transit oriented development was an issue of big debate for the council. After a long, ponderous oration Fish voted in favor of the tax break, saying it would be unfair to change the rules on the developer in the ninth inning. "This is the trade off we made to protect the areas outside of the city, we're putting density where it benefits the city most," said Fish, adding that the project would help a town with "very few cranes in the air and high unemployment, especially in the construction industry."

Commissioner Fritz, though, voted against the tax abatement, saying that the city's list of criteria for development tax breaks is so out of date that the rules are no longer creating the desired results. For someone who's a stickler about following the letter of the law, this was a rare move for Fritz. "Where will the children in this development play? The only outdoor space is a parking lot," she said. "I don't think it qualifies as a transit oriented development."

Portland had 971 units receiving transit oriented tax abatements last year, adding up to $1,376,988 in forgone revenue to the city and school districts, according to Portland's annual report (pdf). The Albert Apartments are now able to skip paying $1.12 million in taxes over the next ten years.

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