— This story is by Jacob Loeb. It was first published by Montavilla News on October 10th.
Over the last two years, staff at Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) developed a plan to cultivate two new commercial centers for residents living south of SE Foster Road in the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood. Out of that work and years of gathering community input, BPS drafted the Lower SE Rising (LSER) Area Plan to create community cores similar to what other Portland neighborhoods inherited. Through proposed zoning changes and transportation investments, the plan’s authors intend to incentivize future development that will create new walkable corridors lined with small businesses and multifamily housing.
Many of Portland’s neighborhoods feature commercial corridors with stores and restaurants clustered around main streets. As with Montavilla’s SE Stark Street and NE Glisan Street, most commercial districts centered on transportation hubs created by historic streetcar lines or major roads. Often, businesses coalesced in these spaces over 100 years ago. However, not all communities in the city had that historic commercial core before the automobile age shifted resources miles away from where people lived. City planners are now working to reduce reliance on personal vehicle travel and strengthen locale retail access within neighborhoods, creating environments where residents can walk or take transit to desirable destinations. In older areas, that takes less effort because a legacy organization of buildings already supports that effort. However, in some communities with predominantly post-war development, community intervention is needed to create the desired change.
The draft Lower SE Rising (LSER) Area Plan proposes turning SE 52nd and SE 72nd Avenues into mixed-use corridors with more housing options and commercial hubs at primary intersections in the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood. The new commercial district on SE 72nd Avenue and Flavel Street extends towards SE 82nd Avenue, creating a more significant business district that links to a major arterial road. If the City Council approves the plan, zoning changes will be the first step towards instigating uses along the corridor. However, those changes only allow new commercial services and do not force property owners to make any changes unless completely redeveloping a site. Further enhancements are needed to draw people into these centers, spurring property transformation. As in the past formation of community hubs, transportation can attract people to a business district.
The plan’s authors propose street improvements, making it safer and more accessible for pedestrians to navigate and cross the busier roadways like SE 52nd, SE 72nd, and SE Woodstock. Additionally, the plan includes neighborhood greenway projects connecting the bicycle and pedestrian networks through this area. However, enhanced bus transit in this district offers a high likelihood for increased housing density and business growth while strengthening other centers. “One thing we’re finding is that the existing transit network didn’t really serve centers. For example, you cannot take a bus from the Woodstock neighborhood center to the Lents Town Center,” explained Bill Cunningham, a City Planner with BPS. Realigning bus routes and creating more frequent service between centers can provide the linkage needed for these fledgling business districts to take root. The LSER plan will integrate with future transit line adjustments underway as part of TriMet’s Forward Together plan to cultivate the desired change.
The Lower SE Rising (LSER) Area Plan is a response to community desires. It offers a chance to create a walkable and community-focused neighborhood similar to what Montavilla residents enjoy. The 172-page draft plan is available for public review. People can also use the Map App to leave written testimony and review what other people have contributed.
Planning Commission members voiced positive comments about the plan at their meeting yesterday, and will now deliberate for several weeks, as they take a closer look at the plan through November before forwarding their recommendations to the Portland City Council. The community will have other opportunities to provide comments during the City Council’s review sometime in spring 2024. If approved, substantial growth for the new could take decades of slow transformation. However, that slow change should help prevent sudden displacement while creating opportunities for micro businesses to sprout up in formerly residential buildings.