STARING DOWN serious legal threats from skeptical neighbors and high-powered Pearl developers—and eager to avoid a grinding battle in the byzantine realm of land-use rules—Commissioner Amanda Fritz is finally ready to air out her controversial plan to move homeless rest area Right 2 Dream Too (R2DToo).
On Friday, September 27, Fritz will release a city document laying out how R2DToo might legally use the site Fritz has offered it: a city-owned parking lot beneath the Broadway Bridge's Lovejoy ramp. That analysis—a "zoning confirmation" routinely sent to Portland's property owners and tenants—would then head before the Portland City Council on Thursday, October 3.
For an advisory discussion only.
"Many neighbors, as well as the applicants for use of the new site, are wondering what the rules are," Fritz said in a statement. "This public hearing will give everyone the opportunity to review the city's analysis and comment on it to the entire council."
Fritz hasn't said what route that analysis might take. But observers suggest it might look familiar: a path toward permitting R2DToo as a legal recreational campground.
The Bureau of Development Services, the city's code enforcement agency, made the same offer to R2DToo back in 2012, just before it began levying fines that ultimately topped $20,000.
But organizers, at the time, resisted the offer. They felt like the "recreational" label demeaned its mission of helping people on the streets get a safe night's sleep. They also knew that getting legal, at their current site on NW 4th and Burnside in Chinatown, would have been expensive and difficult. It would have entailed archaeological digging and historic reviews, in addition to the high costs of building structures and connecting to utilities.
This time, organizers seem ready to overlook the cold language of city code as a means to an end. Fritz has also mentioned money for improvements, funded by the Portland Development Commission (PDC). Mayor Charlie Hales, who oversees the PDC as well as the city office that writes code, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, has been closely tracking Fritz's push.
Twice since Fritz announced the planned move, Hales has attended lengthy status updates, including one focused on legal options.
Fritz and Hales both face a difficult chore in winning over Pearl neighbors—and opponents like Homer Williams, a major developer and political financier who has ownership interests in lots near the proposed new site.
A letter from prominent land-use attorney Christe White—who helped the city plot its South Waterfront development and once spent time working directly for Williams—has argued that city codes don't, in fact, list camping as an allowed recreational use.
White is working with the Pearl District Neighborhood Association (PDNA) and others. According to emails between Fritz and Patricia Gardner, president of PDNA, obtained via records request, the two have agreed they won't even meet until Fritz first shows her hand in public.
And aside from the pressure within the Pearl, the Portland Business Alliance has also weighed in against allowing tents.
"The practice degrades property values in the vicinity," it wrote to the council, "impacting the investments that individuals and businesses have made with the expectation that the city will faithfully enforce its rules."