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New 268-apartment project at Skidmore and Williams will have a Dutch ‘woonerf’ space

Posted by on March 11th, 2014 at 12:58 pm

The new project as seen looking north from the corner of Williams and Mason.
(Renderings by Myrhe Group Architects)
The Real Estate Beat is sponsored by PortlandiaHome.com

A large lot on inner North Portland’s Williams Avenue corridor would become one of the city’s biggest new housing-retail projects under a proposal made public last week.

The site between Williams, Vancouver, Mason and Skidmore that currently hosts the Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs and Ethiopian restaurant Dalo’s Kitchen would get 268 apartments and townhouse-style units plus, 25,370 square feet of commercial space and what the architect calls a “woonerf” running down the middle of the block: a narrow Dutch-style street that allows cars to pass through but treats them as “guests.”

The project is the latest in a building boom that’s about to change Williams — nationally known as an example of “bike-oriented development” — in much the way Southeast Division Street has changed in the last year.

“Within two to three years, you’re going to have over 1,000 new residents in that stretch, you’re going to have 300 office workers,” said Stephen Gomez, land use chair of the Boise Neighborhood Association. “Williams is going to be a completely different street.”

The planned complex, which will consist of a six-story building along Skidmore, a five-story building along Williams and a three-story building with front stoops facing Vancouver Avenue, would sit on top of a new underground parking garage with 237 auto parking spaces, 185 of them for residents. The other 52 stalls will serve the commercial space, which will be slightly smaller than the 30,000-square-foot New Seasons store built a few blocks away in 2013.

Boise NA president Kay Newell said she’s been impressed with the project’s supply of auto parking — there’ll be enough spaces for two-thirds of apartment dwellers to park a car on site if they choose — and its development team, which approached her and other key neighbors about a year ago, long before they even bought the site.

“They listen to our suggestions, modify them and use whatever they can,” Newell said. “I wish that all of the builders had these same standards. … We’ve got some good developers in the community, but these guys are outstanding.”

Gomez agreed, at least as far as this project was concerned.

“They’re using for the most part good-quality materials: brick, metal, good window systems,” he said. “It’s a good project.”

A public comment period for the project’s design review process began on Friday and continues through March 28.

This is the latest chapter in an interesting story for the block. Donated to the nonprofit OAME by PacifiCorp in 1990, it was sold at approximately market price 15 years later to what Willamette Week described as “a group of the nonprofit’s insiders.” It continues to serve as OAME’s headquarters. City records show the property changed hands again last December, again at approximately market price. The city lists its current owners as a Seattle investment company and SP Williams LLC, an anonymous corporation registered in Delaware.

The townhouse-style units would have front stoops facing Vancouver Avenue.

Here’s the project’s description of the “woonerf” area, which runs north-south along the route an alley might run if it were a subdivided block:

The interior of the site between the buildings is developed as a shared pedestrian and vehicle space or ‘woonerf’. Under Dutch law the term has specific legal meaning, but in North American usage woonerf generally means shared pedestrian and vehicle space with a brick or paving block surface. … A variety of scored and colored concrete paving treatments, as well as raised planters and bollards, help to define the vehicle and pedestrian zones in the woonerf. Six units in the Williams Building face the woonerf at ground level, have attached internal garages, and are identified by the applicant as ‘live-make’ units that could serve as shared residential/commercial units. The north end of the woonerf includes a large loading stall underneath the overhanging upper floors of the Skidmore Building, which is broken apart at the ground floor ‘portal’ to provide through woonerf traffic. The western portion of the woonerf is developed as a pedestrian-focused space with stoop access to units in the Vancouver Building, large stormwater planters, and bench seating.

Woonerfs are common in the Netherlands, where they have special legal status that gives people on foot or bike the right of way. Similar designs have been popping up recently in Santa Monica and Seattle. Last summer, a new state law cleared the way for Oregon cities to, if they wish, give people on foot the right of way on residential streets that are less than 18 feet wide.

But whatever its legal status, Newell is enthusiastic about the woonerf area as a way to safely allow occasional loading and unloading while giving people a place to socialize outdoors.

“There’ll be one or two commercial spaces that can open up into that space,” Newell said. “It’ll be like a community courtyard.”

 — The Real Estate Beat is a weekly column sponsored by real estate broker Lyudmila Leissler of Portlandia Home/Windermere Real Estate. Let Mila help you find the best bike-friendly home.

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  • Gezellig March 11, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    Great to see something like this in a new development. Wonder if they’ll also be accompanied with signage indicating Cars as Guest and Speed Limit: Walking Speed, etc.

    Hopefully this encourages more woonerven and other types of bike/ped-priority streets to pop up.

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  • Mark March 11, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    For a more impressive example of a Seattle woonerf, four blocks long with a ribbon-cutting scheduled for April 12, 2014, try this link:


    The City sometimes calls it a park and sometimes calls it a green street but it is a woonerf.

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    • Gezellig March 11, 2014 at 2:35 pm

      Nice work, Seattle! That’s definitely a woonerf. Would love to see more of those get built.

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      • paikikala March 12, 2014 at 10:03 am

        Looks a lot like the Festival Streets in Portland’s China Town.

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    • AJL March 12, 2014 at 11:33 am

      I ride this newly designed street every weekday afternoon and it doesn’t function well at all. It’s essentially one lane with wide colored cement “buffers” along each side. The street is chocked with automobiles and buses (the buses are a new development…I wonder if Metro decided it was a good opportunity to use a “low vehicle load street” for bus routing switches) to the point that I have had to use the sidewalk rather than this new street. The sidewalk is wide and I end up able to ride past the vehicles. Note that it’s difficult to ride past the vehicles on the “crooked” street since they don’t line up evenly and it’s virtually impossible to ride by a wide bus. There’s been enough traffic on the street to back up the roadway for several blocks.

      Second problem is that if I come up to the red light as first in line, and take my lane, invariably the driver behind me tries to get around me by driving on the “buffer” of colored cement that is NOT part of the street. It doesn’t matter if they want to make a left or a right turn and that the light is red. It’s only one lane and the drivers don’t seem to care. It’s happened often enough that I opt to ride past the wide pedestrian crossing and stop on the opposite side if I am on the street. Not the best position but better than getting sideswiped.

      Third problem is the pedestrians. I have to be very, very careful when riding at speed down the street and crossing intersections. For some reason, the street doesn’t read as “street! traffic!” to pedestrians and the jaywalking across the intersections has really increased. I rode the street both before and after the change and this has been noticable. Peds will just continue walking across even if they have the don’t walk signal without checking for bicycles (or other traffic I assume, but I suspect they don’t hear a car so just walk).

      In all – if there’s no enforcement then it’s useless.

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      • Mark March 12, 2014 at 1:01 pm

        AJL is right. The Bell Street woonerf is not a great street for riding a bike at speed. It is meant to shift the balance from motor vehicles in favor of pedestrians, to increase the vitality of the street as a place rather than just a route to get to some other place. On that count, it is a welcome addition to Seattle’s streetscape. The jaywalking you observed is a feature, not a bug. As paikikala noted, it is more like a Festival Street in Portland’s Chinatown. Personally, I would like to see these streets closed to vehicular traffic entirely and made into pedestrian plazas. Baby steps, I suppose.

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        • AJL March 12, 2014 at 4:00 pm

          The pedestrians are walking against their red light, I have the green. How is that beneficial? I don’t mind that there’s more peds and more street activity and more bike racks than anywhere in the city, but holy cow, the people just *don’t look* before they cross on their red.

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          • AJL March 12, 2014 at 4:02 pm

            Just another thing to add…the street design was sold as bike/ped friendly…not just pedestrian friendly. However, it’s being used as a cut-through by drivers getting from anywhere east of 3rd/4th to 2nd.

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  • Gregg March 11, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    More details on indoor bicycle parking? A shop with tools? Cargo bike parking?

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) March 11, 2014 at 3:00 pm

      Gomez said he’s been told it’ll have a bike fix-it stand (which seems to be more or less standard now on new apartment buildings with garages now) and bike parking in both the basement and first level. Cargo bike parking is a good question. The applicant is requesting, among other things, to space the bike hooks 1.4′ apart rather than the standard 2′. City code in this part of town requires 295 long-term bike parking spaces for the residential alone, and obviously demand will be high, so they’ll be trying to squeeze a lot in.

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  • esther c March 11, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    “They’re using for the most part good-quality materials: brick, metal, good window systems,” he said. “It’s a good project.”

    For the most part. What’s the rest? Crap?

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) March 11, 2014 at 3:04 pm

      Gomez said some of the siding is supposed to be the sort they use on lower-cost apartment projects.

      I spoke with project architect yesterday for issues like this and scheduled a phone interview today but for whatever reason I couldn’t get a hold of him.

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    • Stephen Gomez March 11, 2014 at 3:32 pm

      The material usage of concern to the Boise Neighborhood Association is “cementious lap siding” also known as hardiplank. Though commonly used for single-family home construction we believe it’s not nearly as appropriate for large scale developments as is brick, metal and at times wood. We consistently expressed our concerns about use of hardiplank to Security Properties–it is being used principally along Vancouver on the town homes. For better or worse the City of Portland Community Design Standards does not preclude usage of this material.

      Our land use and transportation committee has spent a lot of time considering what type of development want here and have organized this thinking into our Design Guidelines which can be found here (with apologies for the incredibly long Squarespace link!):

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      • Terry D March 11, 2014 at 10:13 pm

        I think it was your detailed Land Use comprehensive letter to the city that spurred us on the North Tabor Transportation/LU committee to get much more detailed with ours than we were planning. These large development projects have not come yet to us yet…but they will soon.

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      • Jayson March 12, 2014 at 9:15 am

        Not sure I agree with this. When you’re building larger projects in and around single-family homes, it’s nice to include a mix of the materials to help blend in. Hardiplank is a very durable and attractive exterior feature that exudes a village-like/residential ambiance. Maintenance is minimal.

        Let me tell you what cheap apartment buildings really use – T1-11 siding, stucco panels, wood panels, etc. Consider yourself lucky to be getting new development. I live in a relatively nice part of town with a few older apartment buildings scattered around with absentee slumlords. The bigger complexes tend to be maintained better and haven’t been a problem because they are professionally managed, but the small/medium sized ones are atrocious. They are generally parked at a 1:1 ratio, which means they are also covered with asphalt and landscaping consists of weeds. I would take parking “problems” over the neglectful appearance of these dumps any day.

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      • A.K. March 12, 2014 at 10:48 am

        I agree, hardiplank is a great material. It’s a wood fiber material bound in a cement matrix. It is extremely durable, generally has a 50+ year life, and doesn’t warp like cheaper materials. My house has it and it was one of the selling features for me.

        This house (http://morrisonshomeimprovement.com/wp-content/gallery/hardi/hardiplank1.jpg) doesn’t look cheap or low-quality to me.

        If the designers use it correctly, it’ll look fine.

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        • Paul March 12, 2014 at 2:20 pm

          Second your opinion. Our 8-year-old house’s exterior is 100% hardiplank and it still looks brand new, including the paint. Other elevations that used partial stucco are cracked and discolored.

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  • Andrew Seger March 11, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    People are so funny about auto parking spaces. “Boise NA president Kay Newell said she’s been impressed with the project’s supply of auto parking”

    So 185 residential auto parking spots for 268 apartments is totally fine, but if this were two separate projects the neighborhood would be up in arms.

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    • Stephen Gomez March 11, 2014 at 3:42 pm

      Not sure why you assume “the neighborhood would be up in arms” since I’ve never seen you at a Boise neighborhood meeting. Regardless there’s been considerable conversation about parking here in Boise as in other neighborhoods under development in Portland. The net is that many, but certainly not all residents, are open to less then 1:1 parking in developments here. It’s a matter of tradeoffs–low-parking can lead to lower rents (at least in theory) and acknowledges that not all residents will be owning cars.

      As most bikeportland readers might know this neighborhood–anchored by Williams, Vancouver and Mississippi– has very good transit options for all modes so people are open to seeing how these low-parking projects work. Time will tell. For sure “guaranteed” parking right in front of your house will become a thing of the past in Boise like in other densely populated urban neighborhoods.

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      • Andrew Seger March 11, 2014 at 7:29 pm

        Oh I don’t object at all to this project. I think it’s great. It just reinforces how silly the arbitrary auto parking minimums are. If this were one 185 unit apartment complex with 1:1 parking and one 80 unit parking with zero auto parking it’d not be legal. If this is a way for everyone to be happy with the new infill it works for me. Hypocrisy I can live with.

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    • daisy March 11, 2014 at 7:13 pm

      Streets off of Mississippi are pretty overwhelmed with resident parking from Tupelo Alley. It’s pretty frustrating for everyone, I think.

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      • Martin Vandepas March 11, 2014 at 10:47 pm

        …not for people who don’t own cars! ZING!

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  • spare_wheel March 11, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    “in much the way Southeast Division Street has changed in the last year”

    Except that Division’s transformation has made it less friendly to cyclists. In my experience, the narrowing of the lane and installation of bulb outs has made motorists more impatient and aggressive when a cyclist “gets in their way”.

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  • Spiffy March 11, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    street that allows cars to pass through but treats them as “guests.”

    that’s how I view every neighborhood greenway…

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    • WAR March 11, 2014 at 6:14 pm

      Right? I get buzzed by aggressive drivers all the time on “greenways.” They should be considered guests. That’s a good way to think.

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    • paikikala March 12, 2014 at 10:01 am

      Neighborhood Greenways are through streets for cyclists, intended to operate at 15-20 mph, with minimal stopping. This is very differnent from a woonerf (‘living street’). Traditional woonerf designs operate in the 5-10 mph range and include gathering spaces as well as play spaces.

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      • spare_wheel March 12, 2014 at 1:43 pm

        cars can still be guests on 15-20 mph roads. a few signs and some enforcement would make this point clear.

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  • Jeff March 11, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    Between “sneckdowns” and “woonerfs”, we need some better sounding words for these emerging transportation concepts. Absolutely dreadful. Say it aloud to yourself a few times.

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    • paikikala March 12, 2014 at 10:02 am

      Woonerf means ‘living street’. In the UK, they’re called ‘home zones’. Otherwise, ‘shared space’ is a common catch-all.

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      • MaxD March 12, 2014 at 10:14 am

        I like play street

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      • spare_wheel March 18, 2014 at 8:12 am

        shared space is a completely different approach characterized by mixing of traffic, passive barriers, and a lack of signs or signals.

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    • Chris I March 12, 2014 at 1:02 pm

      Agreed. I love the Dutch, and their transportation approach, but their language is terrible. We can’t adopt their words and expect the ideas to catch on. “Shared Space”, “Living Street”, plenty of other options.

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      • Gezellig March 12, 2014 at 4:22 pm

        Hey, some find its guttural harshness, pirate Rs and colorful expressions fun 😀

        What’s funny is “woonerf” literally translates as “living yard,” but usually gets translated into English as “living street” probably since “yard” for a paved surface in English seems odd.

        That got me thinking, though, what if we really did implement a Living Yard-Street with driveable grass?


        Besides the obvious esthetic/green benefits, it’d be a major cue to cars to proceed SLOWLY.

        A downside might be that if used for the entire width of the Living Yard-Street it might be a less-than-ideal surface for the passage of bikes, kids’ wagons, skateboards, rollerblades, wheelchairs, etc. but perhaps there could be an 8-foot-wide stretch of continuous sidewalk-like pavement down the center (with the rest of the width on either side being driveable grass) or something to account for this.

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  • Anthony Avery March 11, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    Does anyone have any anecdotal (or statistical) review of public bike parking in a common space at Multifamily complexes? There is a quasi-public setup here in Metro Phoenix called the Bicycle Cellar that I used when I was in school and had no fear of leaving my bike unlocked there, but I’m curious if that sort of trust converts over to apartment complexes and whether bike storage is located in a garage vs. a seperate, access controlled area. I’ve wanted to ask the Bike Portland readership their experience with communal bike storage for some time and this seems like the thread it wouldn’t be OT.

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    • Spiffy March 12, 2014 at 9:50 am

      I don’t even leave my bike unlocked in my locked garage… it’s currently u-locked in our company’s secure bike parking cage…

      it’s so easy to quickly u-lock my bike that I do it everywhere, even in secure areas…

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    • Maria March 12, 2014 at 4:20 pm

      I own a small plex in the Eliot neighborhood. A few years ago I decided to provide a covered bike shelter with rack for the residents. In order to comply with zoning, the structure could not be “enclosed” or taller than 6 feet high (due to proximity to the property line). Unfortunately, it was seen as an opportunity by bike thieves, and therefore most residents don’t use it.

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  • dwainedibbly March 11, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    Hardiplank is used all over Florida. It looks at a glance like wood siding and is painted like wood siding. It’s made from a concrete & fiber mix. Termites don’t touch it, of course, and it won’t rot. Sustainable? No.

    How long until the residents try using the woonerf as a driveway for parking?

    How long until the Williams residents start complaining about gentrification, etc? The public comment period could be interesting. If this project gets shot down the City could move Right 2 Dream, Too to this location. Or to the lot where the Trader Joe’s was slated to go if Hales can’t get that project re-started.

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  • dwainedibbly March 11, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    268 Units?!? That’s a huge number for a project that is only 6 stories. How big is this lot? Even a full 40,000 sq ft city block would force the units to be pretty small.

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    • daisy March 11, 2014 at 7:12 pm

      It’s big! More like a block than a lot. Or maybe even more like two blocks?

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    • jimgolden March 20, 2014 at 12:20 pm

      it’s an oversized city block, longer than most. I own the SW corner of this block (a small bldg and a parking lot) and have been dealing with the developer for over a year. They seem to have better intentions than most and the project seems to be fairly well thought out.

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  • daisy March 11, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    It’ll be interesting to see how Williams functions once the new design is in place. Now that the weather is warming and folks are getting back on their bikes, we’re starting to see overcrowding again in bike lanes. It’s great to have bike-oriented development — let’s just hope bike infrastructure keeps up.

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  • Pete March 11, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    Great project! I look forward to not being able to afford to live here!

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  • Eastsider March 11, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    I do have to wonder if this is just green-washing what is essentially a driveway to the parking garage. Or if the project wasn’t so profit driven, it could just be a more generously proportioned courtyard instead of an alley. With 237 cars coming in and out daily, I doubt they will be reduced to “guest” status. It will just be a driveway. Even if it could be considered an amenity for cyclists and pedestrians, the net effect of adding 237 cars on a street already overloaded with automobiles with be a great detriment. And of course, those parking spots have a multiplier effect: if residents have easy access to their car, they will want to drive it downtown to work. So we’ll need more parking downtown. Or maybe they work at Nike or Intel. We’ll have to widen US 26. Or maybe they only use it on weekends. There’s only so much traffic that the highway to the coast and Mt. Hood can handle. This area of the city is an opportunity to develop in a smart way: why are we still designing around the automobile??

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) March 12, 2014 at 12:21 am

      With regard to the possibility that this is greenwashing a driveway: seems to me that the question is how much money they spend making the area nice for people to be in. The fact that there were no renderings of the interior area definitely seems like cause for concern.

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      • jimgolden March 20, 2014 at 12:21 pm

        and the fact that these spaces are often extremely loud. Ive seen some interior drawings, it looks decent.

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    • Spiffy March 12, 2014 at 9:55 am

      my guess is that they had to keep the inside space accessible due to underground pipes that the city needs to access, much like the proposed Trader Joe’s development not far from there…

      so it’s green-washing an essential alley, but it’s much better than they were required to do…

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    • Chris I March 12, 2014 at 1:06 pm

      As this area continues to add density, the prospect of driving downtown on a daily basis will continue to dim. Williams/Vancouver is going to be a parking lot in a few years, and there will definitely be no road expansions. Any attempts to widen I-5 through North Portland will be squashed by citizen activism.

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    • Dennis Mountjoy May 28, 2014 at 4:33 pm

      If the project were not so ‘profit-driven’, it would not exist. If the developers of this site fail to show adequate returns on their investment, their investors will deploy their capital with other developers who are ‘profit-driven’, and lenders will not loan them money for construction.

      It’s capitalism my man, the city planners can only do so much. The market will dictate what happens on North Williams, unless you want to use public funds to subsidize apartment developments that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

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  • Kittens March 12, 2014 at 1:36 am

    Looks like every other cheaply built multi family complex.

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  • Kevin March 12, 2014 at 8:21 am

    This also means that there will be nearly a hundred more distracted drivers looking at their stupid cell phones while negotiating overly crowded streets. Personally, I’m starting to dislike what Portland is becoming.

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  • mikeybikey March 12, 2014 at 9:00 am

    Curious if the developer ever took a stance on the street redesign which is most decidedly not dutch. That is what I’d like to know.

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  • Dave March 12, 2014 at 9:36 am

    Will part of this be rent controlled, or at least have inclusionary zoning apply?

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  • dennis March 12, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Looks pretty. I am concerned that these will be rented at “Market rates”. That district has a history of being very mixed income. Much of what people like about that neighborhood is because of this wide variety of people. It seems that all these new units are extremely high end, with a very specific set of renters.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) March 12, 2014 at 10:12 am

      Yes, the units will indeed be rented at market rates. One thing I didn’t get into here is that unlike many other new apartment buildings in the area, this one will have a lot of two-bedrooms and the like, plus the new townhouses. That’ll mean they’re competing to serve slightly larger households rather than lots of singles.

      Since there’s no housing currently on the site, this is a pure increase in the housing supply, so in that sense it’ll be a modest win for affordability; given the fact that lots of people want to live in this area there’ll be fewer folks (especially those with money to spare) bidding up the price of nearby single-family homes.

      That’s not to say that the current building’s tenants aren’t being of use, and it’s not to say that the project couldn’t have better preserved diversity by including lower-cost units.

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  • daisy March 12, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    Oh! Also: this project is apparently displacing Dalo’s Kitchen, an Ethiopian restaurant that I think has some of the best Ethiopian food in Portland. (My credentials: I have eaten Ethiopian food in Ethiopia.) So, get there while you can.

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  • dan March 12, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    The jaywalking you observed is a feature, not a bug.

    Exactly – as I understand it, pedestrians are supposed to have the right of way here. You know, you have to treat them like we want motorists to treat us.

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  • DIMcyclist March 17, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Williams Street: D.O.A.

    Gentrified to death.

    Even if they have 195 parking spaces, that means possibly +60 cars (assuming 90% of the inhabitants drive) still parked on the adjacent neighborhood streets- in an already congested part of town suffering from serious traffic & road-share problems.

    Brilliant planning at work.

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson March 19, 2014 at 8:51 am

    Too much parking; underground parking is very expensive which can only show up in affordability. Transit on this stretch is only so so…the 44 is not a Frequent Service line. Bike Oriented Development, yes, but can development fees cover the cost of upgrading the Williams bike facilities?
    Maybe an LID could push those to the next level.

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  • Henry Collins March 9, 2015 at 10:23 am

    I am wondering if there will be affordable housing this building? Additionally, I am also wondering how one can become a member of the management team?

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