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University of Portland campus expansion puts greenway advocates on edge

University of Portland’s new campus. Advocates are asking, “Where’s the greenway?”

When the University of Portland announced a big campus expansion late last month, the question we immediately heard was: Where’s the trail?

“The University stands by its commitment to provide an 8′ easement from our property but cannot offer any additional land. The land to complete the trail must come from Union Pacific.”
— James Kuffner, University of Portland

The North Portland Greenway is a long-planned 10-mile path that will eventually connect the Eastbank Esplanade to Kelley Point Park. The alignment adopted by Portland City Council in 2013 runs alongside Union Pacific Railroad tracks (on University of Portland property) that run through the new campus; but none of the visuals released by the university show the trail. Advocates with the nonprofit NP Greenway are both excited and worried about the news. Construction of the new campus could mean a major breakthrough for a key section of their trail. But as any veteran trail advocate will tell you — there are no sure things when it comes to the complicated interplay of private developers, planning easements, and an all-powerful railroad company.

James Kuffner with University of Portland shared via email today they plan to set aside an eight-foot wide strip of land for the trail. But NP Greenway Board Member Francie Royce says the trail must be at least 14 or 16-feet wide. The legal standing of the easement also complicates things.

In response to an email yesterday from a concerned advocate, Kuffner said, “Not to worry – the NP Greenway Trail is alive and well at UP.” Kuffner added that they’ve only promised eight feet of width as a “contribution to the full width trail” and says more detailed drawings to be submitted as part of an upcoming greenway review application with Bureau of Development Services will show the trail easement.

Then Kuffner wrote, somewhat ominously, that the rest of the project will be up to Union Pacific. “The biggest challenge to building the trail is getting an easement from Union Pacific RR to provide the additional 6′ to 8′ of land so the trail can be built to the desired specifications and width. Until that happens I don’t believe construction of the trail is possible.” “The University stands by its commitment to provide an 8′ easement from our property but cannot offer any additional land. The land to complete the trail must come from Union Pacific,” he added.

Leaving the future of this trail in the hands of UPRR’s generosity isn’t exactly good news.

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The consternation that remains has to do with who is obligated to give up land for the trail. Advocates and the City of Portland say it’s University of Portland. The university, via Kuffner, says it’s also UPRR.

The 2013 Greenway alignment adopted by City Council specifically notes that the trail in this segment needs to be at least 14-feet wide and that it, “runs parallel to, and south of, the UPRR rail line outside of the railroad ROW to the University of Portland property purchased for future campus expansion (River Campus).”

Here’s the alignment adopted by Council:

U of P’s 2012 Master Plan (PDF here) acknowledges that the North Portland Greenway requires a 12-14 foot wide trail with an additional three-foot buffer from the railroad tracks. Here’s the wording from their plan:

This recommended alignment will require dedication of more land from the University in addition to the 25-foot Greenway setback and it will bi-furcate the river campus with a public access. However, the University supports the objectives of the Greenway plan and the objectives of the trail access. As a result, the University supports the recommended trail alignment in Segment 3.

There’s nothing in their master plan that refers to the eight feet mentioned by Kuffner — nor does the plan make any requirements of Union Pacific as outlined in Kuffner’s comments today.

Here’s the image from U of P’s plan referred to above:

And for good measure, here’s the alignment shown in NP Greenway’s “vision”:

The path’s alignment according to NP Greenway’s vision.

NP Greenway Board Member Cynthia Newton shared with us via email last week that, “The University will be required to build the npGreenway Trail per their master plan as part of the project… We are thrilled that this section of the Trail will be built in the foreseeable future.”

“We want to make sure that PP&R doesn’t miss this opportunity and that the University of Portland follows through with many reassurances of their commitment they have made over the years.”
— Francie Royce, NP Greenway

Another NP Greenway Board Member Francie Royce is still seeking assurances. “We’ve always been told by U of P representatives that they support and will build the trail once they build their river campus,” she shared with me via email today. “The adopted alignment runs along the riverside of the railroad tracks that cuts through the U of P property. The alignment is on U of P property – not Union Pacific property. PP&R [Portland Parks and Recreation] must make make sure they get a dedicated easement or dedicated property for at least a 14’ if not a 16’ trail built by U of P.”

As for what’s required by land-use law, it appears that U of P has no legal requirement to build the trail. It comes down to when they applied for permits to build the new campus. When they applied in August 2017, Portland’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan had been adopted by Council but it was not yet legally binding. The new Comp Plan wasn’t effective until December 2017 when it was approved by the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development. That means the City of Portland had to refer to the 1980 Comp Plan which places alignment of the greenway trail on North Willamette Blvd.

Royce and other advocates have worked closely with U of P for years. Now that there’s finally forward movement on this segment, they want to make sure the trail doesn’t end up in a door zone bike lane on Willamette instead of on the riverfront.

“We want to make sure that PP&R doesn’t miss this opportunity and that the University of Portland follows through with many reassurances of their commitment they have made over the years.”

Stay tuned.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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