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The Battle for Old Town

Neighbors Scrap for Homeless Center Cash



Arguments among Old Town neighbors about the planned new homeless center have taken a pragmatic shift—from whether to build it and where, to how everyone can get what they want out of the development.

Neighbors have been scrapping over the center since City Commissioner Erik Sten essentially offered them a deal on January 9: The neighborhood would get $400 million in urban renewal money in exchange for letting the center go ahead without a more thorough community involvement process. It's only in the last week, however, that neighbors have begun writing a list of demands in exchange for building the center where Sten would like.

Initially, neighbors pushed back, voting at a joint neighborhood land-use committee on January 16 to pursue an alternative block near Union Station at the suggestion of Old Town property owner Michael Menashe ["Not on My Block," News, Jan 24].

But the land-use committee U-turned on that vote last Tuesday, January 29, voting 13-11 to keep the city's focus on Block 25, at Glisan and Flanders, between 3rd and 4th—the spot Sten had originally proposed.

"Block 25 is not ideal," developer Doug Obletz of Sockeye Development said before the vote. "But there is an opportunity here to really require that this be done right."

So instead of continuing to discuss an alternative site, the committee met again last Friday, February 1, to write a list of demands for how the new center should be built on Block 25.

The list included office space for the Chinese community, off-street queuing for homeless people, and financial promises from the city and The Portland Development Commission to support other developments in Old Town—including an Uwajimaya supermarket, which Obletz would like to build on NW 5th.

Nevertheless, there's still frustration about the negotiations. Old Town Lofts resident Alexander Mace, whose building faces Block 25, thinks the various committees are railroading the concerns of local residents like him.

"People are making decisions without consulting the neighborhood," he says. "If the neighborhood is being offered a carrot of 'there will be money for projects,' then I think it's important to realize that lots of requests for such money have gone unanswered in the past.

"I hope the process won't be a sham," he continues. "There's an artificial time period in place right now of Sten being in office and wanting to get this done before he leaves, but that just isn't realistic if we want to come out of this with a compromise that makes everybody happy."


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