When to say when
In the continuing war of the South Waterfront Developers vs. The World (score so far: Developers 110, World 0), another battle is nigh.
It's bad enough that the builders are getting a ludicrous, ugly aerial tram from OHSU over the homes and backyards of a very unhappy neighborhood below. But now they want to make their luxury skyscrapers taller and wider than they originally promised they would be, thus obliterating even more of the public view and making even more money from selling the heart of Portland to the highest-bidding empty nesters they can suck north from L.A. and Marin County. They've got the proposal all the way through the prevailing city bureaucracy, and now all that stands in the way is a City Council vote.
So far, they've had no problem getting the council to vote their way. And I mean none, not even from Everyman Leonard. "You can't stop change," he said last time, or something like that.
The neighbors are back up in arms, but you can't fault them from being bone-weary of all this. They're beaten down. When you're up against the city's favored developers, you can never win. Even after you lose once, the real estate welfare recipients keep coming at you again and again. Unlike neighborhood activists, they make lots of money hanging in there on issue after issue. You wind up losing a dozen times before they get everything they originally wanted, and more. All the stuff they give up along the way in supposed concessions to get the city's o.k. for one feature or another somehow never comes to pass.
I don't know how short a memory these folks think we all have. One of the ways they sold the questionable esthetics of the original project was to give assurances that the towers wouldn't go too high, and that they would be slender and graceful and unobtrusive. "Needle-nose" buildings, somebody called the drawings. Sort of like in Vancouver, B.C., they said. Oooh! Vancouver, B.C.! That sounded so wonderful that Vera cooed, and the Scone gave that pained expression, and they answered, yes, yes, what a wonderful compromise. Meanwhile, backstage, the developers' fixer, You-Know-Who, the Great Vi$ionary, put their checks in his bank account. (Hey, the guy had a lot of bills to pay.)
So out flow the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars for the infrastructure, the tram, the whole works. Vera, Teddy, Wyden, Hatfield, they all show up for the groundbreaking with Homer and the Usual Suspects. Send in the cranes. Let's get rich. You would think that would be enough.
Not for these guys. They never let up.
And you know who's making the call on the tower heights so far? I'd be shocked if you did. One of the heavy hitters is an architect on an unelected something-or-other called the Design Commission. Some guy named Mark McCulloch. He was in the paper yesterday allowing as how, yes, we should let them tack on another 50 or 70 feet on the top of those condo towers, and make them standard fat apartment buildings to boot -- so long as they're "creative" and "good." This is the same guy who was recently quoted as saying he was ready to waive all kinds of height restrictions on buildings, so long as they were "cool."
Pardon me if those aren't criteria that I'm comfortable with.
Portland is being irreparably marred by all these towers. The Terwilliger Path used to be a revered place, where all Portlanders could go to share a sumptuous view not only of the mountains, but also of the east side of the city. That's going to be seriously impacted even under the existing plan. Someone from the "Planning" Bureau (I think they mostly plan the developers' retirements) said the original layout will be like looking through half-opened blinds. Thanks, but that's bad enough.
There was a time when many a west side commuter got a beautiful Mount Hood view every morning that the mountain was out, as he or she emerged from the Vista Tunnel on the way into downtown. It was a true treat, absolutely free, and it really lifted the spirits. One of those many little things that made the city great. Then came the KOIN Tower, right smack in the way. Now only a few dozen rich folks get that view. The unwashed thousands on their way to work get to see only the building in which their boss lives. And we're about to do the same for the commoners who like to contemplate Hood and the city from up on the hill. Let 'em look at apartments. Maybe they'll get to see William Hurt out on his deck.
The city has already given the condo-izers more than their share of the public's resources. We shouldn't start the Potter era off by giving away a single cubic inch more. We'll be watching the vote on this on Wednesday. The roll call will be front and center on this blog the next morning. And if it's in favor, we'll know that the Goldschmidt-Katz era isn't over yet.