The University of Portland’s Franz Campus expansion was heralded as a huge step forward that will develop 35 acres of shoreline property on the Willamette riverfront. The new campus includes several new buildings, sports fields, a dock, and surface parking lots. But what it didn’t appear to include was space set-aside for the NP Greenway path.
Asstistant Vice President for Community Relations & Special Projects at University of Portland Jim Kuffner provided us with a statement that said he only planned to offer 8-feet for the path and that, “The land to complete the trail must come from Union Pacific.”
That statement — and publicly available renderings of the Franz Campus that didn’t clearly show where the path would be located — made advocates for the project understandably nervous.
Now I’m happy to report that tensions have eased and the path is alive and well.
Reached via phone last week, Kuffner sheepishly acknowledge, “This was a misunderstanding and I believe this is a kerfluffle we’ll blow right past.” Kuffner, who’s now semi-retired and is a well-known liaison between the university and local neighborhood groups (he’s even hosted meetings on campus with NPGreenway, the non-profit group dedicated to building the path), has been intimately involved in this parcel of land for many years. Dealing with the overlapping bureacracies that come with a piece of land that’s a century-old Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) easement and bordering an EPA superfund site can get a bit complicated.
Throughout the university’s negotiations on the parcel, Kuffner said, “We’ve always been paying attention to the needs of the NP Greenway trail.”
Kuffner explained that UPRR was granted a 200-foot wide easement (100 feet on each side of the track) in 1901 in case they wanted to add another track. When the university bought the property in 2009 they became owners of the entire parcel — minus that 200-foot right of way. But since over 100 years had passed and UPRR had never expanded their operations (even the one track today is infrequently used), the university was able to successfully negotiate ownership of half that old easement. This is where it gets with property lines, buildable areas and easement rights.
The bottom line is this: Kuffner simply misstated how much land the university already owned. It turns out they have enough room for the greenway without needing to seek permission from UPRR at all.
“We are 100 percent committed to building the trail,” Kuffner emphasized in our phone call last week.
But we might not be out of the woods with this issue just yet. It’s important to keep in mind that the right-of-way being set-aside for the greenway, which would ideally be part of a regional path network and a public facility, is owned by a private entity.
Kuffner made it clear that UPRR could still opt to exercise their existing easement and add a second track. They haven’t chosen to do that for over 100 years, and it’s highly unlikely they’d do it, but technically they could. University of Portland is comfortable with the risk; but how would the City of Portland feel about putting a public path on a private easement?
And much like a section of the Springwater path built in 2011 when a new development went in, this greenway won’t connect to anything (other than the university campus).
“Although we think this is a great opportunity to demonstrate to others that we did this and you can do this too,” Kuffner shared, about building the greenway, “We’re a little concerned that people will come down and realize they really don’t have any other place to go.”
He’s right when it comes to using the path for commuting or other through-trips; but at 2,000 feet and with other activities going on at the future Franz Campus, I have a feeling the path will still be popular for rolling and running.
Kuffner says the plan drawings currently show the “Future Greenway Trail” at 12-feet wide with a two-foot shoulder on each side for a total width of 16-feet. There’s also likely to be an additional 3-5 foot planting strip between the path and the railroad tracks. “This should enable UP to provide a very comfortable and safe segment of the NP Greenway Trail for all future users.”
The university is still going through a full Greenway Review process with the City of Portland and we’ll get more details about it later this spring or early summer.
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