The Portland Water Bureau has been deluged with angry ratepayers fomenting a coup over high utility bills. Now the bureau is taking more heat—for selling unused land in an effort to lower rates.
As WW first reported in today's Murmurs, more than 30 Multnomah Village residents have written to the city to argue the woods around the "Freeman facility" are a natural area home to owls, deer and at least 20 woodpeckers.
"I voted for two bond measures to secure public land," says Jeremy Solomon, walking gingerly through the Water Bureau underbrush near his house. "And they're going to give this away."
Renaissance Homes, the city's top infill developer, agreed last year to buy the land for $140,000—cutting the price from $240,000 because Renaissance agreed to pay for demolishing the old tank. City documents show the land could be subdivided into 2 to 4 lots for single-family homes.
Neighbors claim they didn't get any say in the matter, and that the land is valuable green space connected to nearby Woods Park.
"There's a big family of pileated woodpeckers," says Solomon. "The city should cancel this backroom deal."
Solomon and his neighbors—including a group called the Friends of Woods Park Natural Area—have written Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the Water Bureau, asking for the city to reconsider. "No response," Solomon says.
Fish's office says the city can't renege on the contract.
"We have to follow the rules," says Fish staffer Sonia Schmanski. "Commissioner Fish is committed to protecting ratepayer dollars. Going forward, we've directed the Water Bureau to take steps to increase public notice."