June 27th, 2013 | by AARON MESH News | Posted In: Activism, City Hall, Housing, Business

Neighborhood Activists Using Red Balloons to Protest Height of North Williams Building

UPDATE: City Council approves development, citing grilled cheese sandwiches

     
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UPDATE, 4:30 pm Thursday, June 27: Portland City Council voted 3-1 this afternoon to approve the zoning change for BackBridge Lofts, allowing the 85-foot building to proceed.

City Commissioner Steve Novick said he voted for greater density in North Portland because "we're frying our planet like a grilled cheese sandwich," according to Oregonian reporter Casey Parks.

ORIGINAL POST, 12:14 pm Wednesday, June 26: It's high time time for another fracas over the size of a proposed residential building—and this time, the irate neighbors have balloons.

A neighborhood group called "Red Balloons for Reason" will hold a demonstration this afternoon on the corner of North Williams and Fremont streets, where developer Ben Kaiser wants to build an eight-story condo and retail project called BackBridge Lofts.

To do that, he needs Portland City Council to approve a zone change. Neighbors have been begging City Commissioner Amanda Fritz—the new boss of the Bureau of Development Services—to quash the switch. City Council will discuss the zoning change Thursday.

Today at 4 pm, activists are launching 100 red balloons tethered at a height of 85 feet—as tall as the building will be if Kaiser gets his zoning change. Neighbors want the building scaled back to 65 feet.

Emails obtained by WW show Kaiser, who runs PATH Architecture, has been bartering with neighbors for a truce—while arguing for greater density in North Portland.

"What if, in the final picture, I could dedicate the corner as a city park (as we are attempting across the street) if only I could add an extra floor at the Williams/Fremont corner?," Kaiser wrote yesterday.

"Downtown used to be single family homes," he wrote. "This corridor is downtown, or will certainly soon be, if we want to succeed in our objectives of 20 minute neighborhoods, less automobile traffic, and a 'greener' city."

Mike Warwick, the chair of the Eliot Land Use and Transportation Committee, was not impressed.

"We had no idea you would deviate from prior practice to propose the tallest structure north of Broadway except for the Emanuel campus, which as you know is tied to a development and design compact with Eliot in addition to being an institution with a public benefit mission," Warwick wrote.

"I fear you have gotten intoxicated by a literal reading of the (central residential) code," he continued, "and forgotten that this change isn't a right but a negotiation."

 
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