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Monday, November 11, 2013

TriMet's Plans for Layover Lot in Woodlawn Have Property Owner Worried

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Mon, Nov 11, 2013 at 4:54 PM

TriMet appears to have found a way out of what's been a tough balancing act with neighbors over the end of shortened Line 8 route in the burgeoning Woodlawn neighborhood.

Months after announcing a solution meant to get idling buses out of Woodlawn Park and away from the neighborhood's business district on NE Dekum, the transit agency appears ready to buy some land near MLK to create an off-road layover and break lot for its drivers.

But one of the agency's preferred locations for that lot—property along Rosa Parks Way between MLK and Grandcould wind up provoking another fight with neighbors, the Mercury has learned. Landlord Tom Fender, who bought the property earlier this year, said he received a registered letter out of the blue from TriMet a few weeks ago letting him know his land was one of two the agency was considering—with mention, as part of its notice, of the possibility of eminent domain.

Eminent domain, for those who don't know, is when a government agency receives court permission to seize an unwilling property seller's land, with fair compensation, in the name of the public good. TriMet's no stranger to the process, having used it here and there when building its PSU and Milwaukie light-rail lines.

And Fender says he's worried. Because after making plans to move his business to the lot—and with a bakery and a coffee shop sharing a duplex on the land—he doesn't want to sell. He said he made that case to a TriMet official, Clay Thompson, who came by the coffee shop, Cafe Eleven, earlier this morning.

"It's like most of that section of MLK," he says, "a ratty eyesore car lot deal for a zillion years." But since making improvements, he says, "the neighbors are excited. It's a nice amenity. It's a cool neighborhood. People feel real strongly about it." Fender says he hopes to develop the lot

Mary Fetsch, TriMet's communications director, couldn't immediately confirm that Fender's lot was of interest in the agency's hunt for a layover lot and said she'd look into it. But it's clear the agency is interested in something after announcing, in April, that it had devised a workaround sending idling buses off Dekum and into two different locations. A Portland Reddit poster today mentioned hearing from the agency:

Some people in the neighborhood are getting canvassed by Trimet regarding a new area for the busses to "layover". I am curious about the proposal. I have been looking on the Trimet site and can't find anything. Im guessing Trimet is trying to keep this as quiet as possible. Any info on the proposal would be appreciated. Thanks.

Monica Jennings, owner of Cafe Eleven, said she'd only taken over the place with her husband as of this summer. She said TriMet suggested she and the bakery next door could stay after it took the lot. But she's not convinced.

"We're new business owners," she said, "and now we have to deal with this, too."

Jennings says a community meeting is planned from 6-8pm Wednesday and that she has 200 signatures already in hand opposing the idea. Both Jennings and Fender also say they've heard that the owner of the other property TriMet's eyeballed, up MLK closer to Dekum, is interested in selling. Both also said, ideally, TriMet would put its layover spot closer to Lombard or Columbia Boulevard.

"That was the point of the meeting [today], to head off some controversy," Fender says. "It was a charm offensive."

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