Architect and City Council Candidate Stuart Emmons Makes a Play for the Defenders of Old Portland

"Are you happy with what new buildings are doing to Portland?" wrote Emmons in an email to supporters on Thursday. "Well, I’m not either. Now you can do something about it!"

A drone's eye view of Southwest Portland. (Abby Gordon)

City Council candidate Stuart Emmons is angling for the anti-development vote in Portland.

An architect and second-time candidate, Emmons is using his campaign email to make a direct appeal to the Portlanders who view new construction as a cause of the city's woes.

"Are you happy with what new buildings are doing to Portland?" wrote Emmons in an email to supporters on Thursday. "Well, I'm not either. Now you can do something about it!"

The email reads as an appeal to residents who want to preserve the city as it used to be.

"Are you happy with how Portland is growing? Are you happy with the homelessness and unaffordable housing?" were the other two questions he asked and said he wasn't happy about.

Appealing to those frustrations isn't new for City Hall candidates. Portland has seen both a spike in housing costs—rent and home prices—and a construction boom.

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly won a seat on City Council in 2016 in part by appealing to people who felt left behind by those changes. But Emmons' email is the most direct appeal yet to a backlash—led by a group called Stop Demolishing Portland—that sees new development as a destructive force.

His approach could find an eager audience.

The day before Emmons's email, the Pearl District Neighborhood Association, along with dozens of supporters, went before City Council with a formal appeal to halt or change a development that will block views of the Fremont Bridge. Their fight and similar ones were the subject of a recent WW cover story.

Related: A Fight Over The Height of Portland's Skyline is Raging. Who Wins May Determine Whether The City's Housing Crisis Ever Ends.

Emmons is a late entrant in the race to replace retiring City Commissioner Dan Saltzman. He faces County Commissioner Loretta Smith and the NAACP of Portland president Jo Ann Hardesty among others.

Emmons tells WW he isn't against construction and isn't familiar enough with the apartments at the Fremont Bridge to discuss them. (He also didn't have an answer to whether he'd vote for or against some of the building height increases along the bridges in the central city. He has supporters on both sides of that project, at least for now.)

Emmons's answer is better design—a refrain of many who are objecting to the new buildings—and electing himself to City Council to serve as an expert on architecture and planning.

"I am not anti-building at all," he tells WW. "I'm not saying no to new buildings. We just need to design them carefully and be sensitive to the neighborhoods."

Emmons declined to provide specific examples of building he objected to.

When asked, he declined to pass judgment on Yard, the building at the east end of the Burnside Bridge that has become a lightning rod for many people who loathe the changing city skyline. (The most negative he'd get: "Whether it's in the right place," he says, "there are different sides of that.")

To be sure, Emmons doesn't oppose all building. He even says he'd likely support the concept for eight tall towers at RiverPlace. (He likes the work of Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, particularly his work at the Japanese Garden: "it's the best building in town in the last many years," Emmons says.)

And he's in favor of many of the buildings along North Williams Avenue, another area that's caused controversy.

When pressed, he provided one example of a development he disliked: the blocks of apartments along Southeast Division Street that have risen in the last decade.

"Division would be one example," he says. "I don't want to get specific. Division in the last 10 years."

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