The Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability released a climate emergency plan last month outlining all the steps the city had to take to curb the effects of climate change before it’s too late: ditch coal-fired power plants, promote bicycles, retrofit buildings, and plant trees, among other things.
Special efforts must be made in communities of color in “outer east,” the plan says, where the impacts of urban heat islands are greater. To help there, BPS proposes to convert the East Portland Community Center into an energy-efficient “resilience center” where people can go during extreme heat, smoke, ice and cold.
The residents of Argay Terrace, one of those “outer east” neighborhoods, have a question.
If doom is truly impending—to the point the city must build some kind of climate refugee center—why is Portland letting the mega-rich owner of the Minnesota Vikings build a 260,000-square-foot freight warehouse that would draw even more diesel-powered trucks into a neighborhood that’s already blighted by them?
“This would be the most awful use of this space,” says Megan Petrucelli, a marriage and family therapist who lives in Argay Terrace. “It’s dooming the neighborhood to be an industrial wasteland. It’s not strategic and it’s counter to all the goals the city says it wants to meet.”
Most Portlanders probably visit just one address in Argay Terrace: the Costco on Northeast 138th Avenue. Or they know it as home to the abandoned Kmart on 122nd and Sandy with the sprawling parking lot where the Proud Boys gathered for a far-right festival in August 2021 that turned into a paintball and baseball-bat brawl with anti-fascists.
That, as it happens, is where Vikings owner Zygmunt Wilf plans to build his tilt-up concrete warehouse and lease it to Prologis, the San Francisco-based company that helps companies like Amazon and Home Depot move merchandise around the world.
The Viking conquest in Argay shows how well-intentioned places like Portland continue to conduct business as usual on climate, even as scientists warn that the old ways spell disaster. It also shows how low-income neighborhoods keep getting screwed, despite lofty talk about equity and the special burdens that climate change puts on people of color.
Heatwise, Argay Terrace is just about the last Portland neighborhood that needs another flat-roofed warehouse teeming with trucks, says Vivek Shandas, a geography professor at Portland State University who maintains a “heat map” of the city.
His map shows what he describes as an arc of heat that runs along the industrial zone on the Willamette River, north through St. Johns to the Columbia River, then back down along Interstate 205.
“Argay Terrace is right in the center of the arc of heat,” Shandas says. “But we’ll probably never see the ground under this site again.”
Argay Terrace residents say climate is only one of their concerns about the project. Wilf’s warehouse would be across 122nd Avenue from Parkrose High School, and a block north of Parkrose Middle School. The city approved an extra-big, 60-foot-wide driveway into the property just north of Northeast Shaver Street, which is designated a “safe route to school” by the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
Residents worry that trucks coming west would try to dodge traffic on Sandy Boulevard by turning south on 141st Avenue and taking Shaver to 122nd, where it’s an easy right turn into the big new driveway. PBOT traffic maps show that somewhere between 101 and 500 trucks already rumble down Shaver each day, even though it is marked “no trucks.”
“This industrial development is not fair to the residents who have lived here for years,” the Argay Terrace Neighborhood Association wrote to city commissioners in April. “It is going to devalue properties and do irreparable damage to the community values, livability, and walkability of our neighborhood.”
Commissioner Mingus Mapps has heard complaints from residents in Argay Terrace, Mapps’ spokesman Adam Lyons says. Residents can file a land use appeal. Otherwise, there is little commissioners can do because the zoning allows the warehouse to be built, he adds.
Argay Terrace is bounded by 122nd Avenue to the west, the Columbia River to the north, 148th Avenue to the east, and Interstate 84 to the south. Development began in the 1950s when Art Simonson and Gerhardt “Gay” Stabney conceived a surburban neighborhood with ranch houses on curving, tree-lined streets. They combined their first names to get “Argay.”
“Living’s really wonderful when you live in beautiful Argay Terrace,” said an advertisement in The Oregonian on July 19, 1959. “Gracious living…just minutes from town.”
Today, the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s “equity matrix” shows that 41.5% of Argay Terrace’s population are people of color, including Hispanic. The median income is $61,806. On an income scale ranging from 1 to 5, where 5 is the lowest, Argay Terrace is a 4, PBOT says.
And the northern half of the neighborhood is now crammed with warehouses—or worse. In 2017, the Metro regional government approved a waste transfer station at 138th and Sandy, now run by City of Roses Disposal & Recycling. Next door is Speed’s Auto Auction, where cars impounded by the city get sold to the highest bidder.
Wilf’s new freight warehouse might be more of a blight because it’s going on the south side of Sandy. That means there would be little separation between idling diesel trucks and the Hidden Oaks Apartments, a modest development just over a fence and a hedge from the old Kmart. Industrial properties on the north side are kept at a distance by Sandy and the rail line.
The Kmart along 122nd Avenue closed in 2018, part of a nationwide purge of Sears-owned properties. That same year, the city of Portland opened the door to Wilf by changing the zoning for the 13-acre Kmart parcel as part of the 2035 Comprehensive Plan.
The state has various planning goals, one of which is job growth. Job-creating industries require land, and Portland chose to change the Kmart lot from “commercial” to “general employment.” Planners had determined that there wasn’t enough “EG” land in the city and too much commercial, according to an email from Steve Kountz, senior economic planner at BPS to the neighborhood association.
Other reasons, Kountz wrote, were pursuing “policies that advance social equity, including expanded growth capacity for widely accessible middle-wage jobs in East Portland” and “increasing income self-sufficiency for people without four-year college degrees.”
Commercial zoning would not have precluded a freight warehouse, but it would have reduced its scope to no more than 10,000 square feet, says BPS spokeswoman Magan Reed.
Prologis declined to say how many permanent jobs the freight warehouse would produce. The new building would be LEED Silver certified, Prologis senior vice president Ben Brodsky says in an email, and the paved area would shrink by 195,000 square feet. There would be beehives on the roof, native plants around the site, and spaces for food trucks, Brodsky adds.
Ownership of the Kmart site is cloaked in an entity called RFC Joint Venture. Following leads in property records, WW linked RFC and the property to Zygmunt Wilf, who, along with his brother Mark and a cousin named Lenny, owns a New Jersey real estate company called Garden Homes.
Wilf’s father Joseph, a Holocaust survivor who immigrated from Poland, started the company with his brother in 1954 to build single-family houses. Reached by phone, Mark Hoffman, director of development at Garden Homes, says the Wilf family has owned the Kmart property since about 1986, under various entities.
A Garden Homes subsidiary, Garden Commercial Properties, manages 25 million square feet of retail and office space. At 260,000 square feet, the new warehouse in Argay Terrace would increase Wilf’s commercial holdings by a little more than 1%, making it a property he could probably do without. Residents of Argay Terrace say they desperately need the property to be something else.
“There’s nothing walkable out here,” says Petrucelli, the therapist. “This space could provide a lot of resources. You could go there to get groceries or a meal. We had daydreamed about what could happen at this site.”
Every week, WW examines one mysteriously vacant property in the city of Portland, explains why it’s empty, and considers what might arrive there next. This week: 12350 NE Sandy Blvd.