Randy Rapaport does not match the mental picture of a "developer"-let alone one who would scare a Southeast Portland neighborhood full of coffeeshops and organic grocery stores.
The 45-year-old Maine native behind the acclaimed Belmont Street Lofts looks at least 10 years younger than his age. He travels by skateboard and wears indie-rock band T-shirts. During the yearlong construction on Belmont, Rapaport blew off steam by traveling to see the baroque pop band Flaming Lips every 90 days, no matter what continent the band was on.
This unconventional investor-Rapaport calls himself a "patron/collaborator"-now has wild things in store for the corner of Southeast 26th Avenue and Division Street, onetime home of a pottery business called the Clay Rabbit.
Rapaport plans an elegant honeycomb of about 25 residential lofts above 4,200 square feet of retail space. John Holmes, an architect with Portland firm Holst who won plaudits for the Belmont, will handle design.
Solar voltaic panels, innovative stormwater management and hyper-efficient heating and appliances may make this one of Portland's greenest developments. Floor-to-ceiling windows and exterior panels emitting a pale-green halogen glow should make it one of the most striking.
"I want people to think of great buildings when they think of Portland, and this is a start," Rapaport says.
Naturally, there's more to the story.
Rapaport's development-currently scheduled for spring 2007 completion-would replace the sprawling Victorian house on the large corner lot. Until recently, the current building housed the Clay Rabbit, a 25-year-old pottery gallery relocating to Woodland, Wash.
Though Rapaport says he wants to move and restore the century-old house to a location to be determined, its imminent disappearance is stirring angst in a neighborhood poised for change.
"It's a neighborhood landmark," says Val Ballestrem, a member of the Hosford-Abernethy Neighborhood Association's board. "In general, people are accepting of changes and recognize the need for density. But at what point do you draw the line between increasing density and destroying neighborhood history? I think this crosses the line."
New businesses and residential revitalization have reshaped the Division corridor in recent years. Residents and businesses are enmeshed in long-range planning that touches on transit, zoning and ecology. Increased residential density along heavily trafficked Division is definitely on the agenda. Many in the neighborhood see the Clay Rabbit's pending transformation as a harbinger, both symbolic and bittersweet.
"We have these nice goals," says neighborhood activist Linda Nettekoven. "We want to be sensitive to the street's history. We also want higher density and high-quality design. A lot of people, more than being against this, are thinking, 'Why do these things have to collide?'"
Ballestrem acknowledges that though the city recognizes the Clay Rabbit house as a "historical resource," Portland planning and permitting procedures provide little leverage to keep the house where it is. "There's nothing procedurally we can do," says Ballestrem, a student in Portland State's history program. "I'm just trying to make people aware. In 20 years, we may not have any residential houses on this street."
Rapaport says he understands his proposed changes for the property, which he bought in March, leave some uneasy. His Belmont project, which sold out well before completion, also faced neighborhood qualms.
"On Division, it's a slightly different set of concerns," the developer says. "But people on Belmont were concerned about something big going in on the street. Now, I think most of them love it."
The Victorian Clay Rabbit House may be hauled out to make room for retail/living space.