Portland City Council on Wednesday rejected a proposal to raise height restrictions along the Willamette River just south of downtown, despite the tantalizing possibility of 500 units of affordable housing and a concept designed by an internationally renowned architect.

City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly cast the deciding vote. It was a significant vote— in part because she campaigned on the issue of housing affordability. (And it was the rare decision at Council decided by such a close vote.)

By this afternoon, Eudaly indicated she's willing to reconsider, though she may not necessarily approve the height increases.

The new vote will take place March 22.

"I am doing this as a courtesy to the mayor," she said at Council this afternoon. "It does not guarantee a change in my vote."

Portland’s southwest waterfront near RiverPlace. (Abby Gordon)
Portland’s southwest waterfront near RiverPlace. (Abby Gordon)

A new development at Riverplace would be subject to inclusionary housing rules and therefore include as many as 500 units of affordable housing.

The concept, floated last fall at City Hall by NBP Capital, included eight towers as tall as 400 feet with a concept designed by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, who also designed a new building at Portland's Japanese Gardens. The developer requested more height from City Council in exchange for building the affordable units.

The vote yesterday would have increased the heights to as high as 325 feet (not quite as high as the concept proposed) and failed by a vote of 2 to 2. It needed a majority to pass. The recommendation height limit for the area was as high as 200 feet.

City Commissioner Dan Saltzman recused himself, citing property his family owns.

(His sister, Julie Leuvrey, who runs the family business, Oregon Pacific Investment and Development Company, has lobbied against the Riverplace height increases. "You may be aware that I am Dan Saltzman's sister and run our family real estate business. We have holdings in the neighborhood which would be heavily impacted by the Riverplace proposal," she wrote in a Jan. 20 email.)

Commissioner Amanda Fritz was always expected to vote no; she opposes this change and others to city zoning codes that raise heights at the riverbanks.

Eudaly voted with her, citing concerns over the process: The developer had come to City Council to increase the height limits after the city's Planning Commission had weighed in on the Central City 2035 plan.

"I've expressed my concerns for a tacit approval for a development project that has not gone through the proper channels for approval," she said Thursday at Council. "I've asked for commitments from the mayor that any project that develops on that site, particularly if they plan to build to the maximum heights, goes through the master plan process, design overlay and community engagement that any other development would."

Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Nick Fish voted for the height increase.

Wheeler said he believes Eudaly's concern can be addressed through a technical review she mentioned, called a master planning process, that was approved by Council yesterday for the site. It will require approval from the city's design review commission about the concept for the development.

"I believe those questions are answered through the master planning requirement," Wheeler said Thursday.

Wednesday's vote that blocked new height at Riverplace was the second major action at council in a single day to upend plans for development along the waterfront.