A high-rise apartment building in the Pearl District—whose fate has drawn the alarmed attention of the development community—is back from the dead.
The Portland City Council today withdrew a decision to reject the 17-story, 275-unit building known as the Fremont Place Apartments. But the council hasn't yet approved the project either. That vote could come next month.
The latest reversal is an unusual move—one that Commissioner Dan Saltzman said he had not seen in his two decades on the council. Commissioners voted 3 to 2 to undo a preliminary decision where they sided with the Pearl District Neighborhood Association's objections to the building.
Neighbors have objected to the loss of views, some from their own apartments, but asked the council to reject the building for other reasons. Specifically, they pointed to technical grounds that included the accusation they got special treatment from the city's all-volunteer panel that reviews the design of buildings in the central city.
The choice facing the council has drawn interest from the broader development community, in part, because Mayor Ted Wheeler and others at Portland City Hall have pledged to make design review easier.
Instead, with its preliminary decision on March 7, Council had moved in the opposite direction.
The decision to overrule the all-volunteer design commission was itself unusual. It was the first time in a dozen years that Council had moved to overturn the Design Commission and blocked new construction.
Broader issues are at stake: The central city is expected to see double the number of households before 2035 and absorb just under a third of the city's population growth during the same period.
Commissioners Nick Fish, Chloe Eudaly and Mayor Ted Wheeler voted to reopen the discussion. Commissioners Dan Saltzman and Amanda Fritz voted to oppose the decision.
Fish argued in favor of giving the applicant a second shot at addressing council concerns about the design, which included the width of the bike and pedestrian path along the river.
"I believe that in this instance giving the applicant the opportunity to address the concerns we raised and redesign the project and come back to council is in the public interest," said Fish.
Saltzman voted against doing so.
"We had a very good hearing on this," said Saltzman. "I didn't have real strong feelings one way or the other, but I was impressed with the quality of the council discussion on this matter. I was loath to see this council become the design commission. And I'm concerned that's the exactly the door we're opening."