September 17, 2008

Portland Bureau of Planning’s River Plan Phase Nearing Finish

By Tyler Graf

Portland Bureau of Planning is stepping up efforts to finish the North Reach phase of its River Plan, which will change elements of the city's future policies for industrial land near the Willamette River.

The North Reach area extends from the Fremont Bridge on the west side and the Broadway Bridge on the east side, out north to the confluence with the Columbia River.

Throughout the remainder of the fall, the city will meet with stakeholders and hold forums to discuss the issues surrounding the plan, which hasn't been updated since 1987. The plan will tweak city policies relating to industrial zoning, prioritizing industrial infrastructure spending and protecting industrial properties from being rezoned.

Today, the city is holding a discussion about the North Reach phase at 1 p.m. at the Lovejoy room at City Hall. Then, on Sept. 26 the Columbia Corridor Association will be having a breakfast roundtable about the plan starting at 7:30 a.m. at the Holiday Inn Airport Hotel at 8439 N.E. Columbia Blvd.

The River Plan North Reach phase has changed since it was last discussed in May, said Steve Kountz, who's working on the updated plan for the Bureau of Planning.

For one, the way the city zones its industrial land may become more stringent in the immediate future, with greater protection of industrial properties. This would make it harder for these properties to be rezoned.

"There are a few areas (within zoning) that we need to change," Kountz said. "One is figuring out where we add industrial sanctuaries (for greater protection)."

The concern is that industrial properties will continue to be sold to investors looking for cheap land. Industrial land doesn't fetch as much as other types of property, which makes it appealing to investors looking for a property flip.

"Our process right now is about creating assurance in the long term," Kountz said.

For Michael Montgomery, the manager of the city's River Renaissance program, the goals of the project are twofold: protect the river environmentally while allowing industrial properties to prosper.

This means providing industrial site reclamation while laying the groundwork for a harbor that's "clean and environmentally sensitive."

As Montgomery often says: "We want the river as our front yard, not our backyard."The Willamette River remains polluted and can threaten peoples' health during the rainy months, when sewage overflow spills ashore.

"People look at the rain, and they think, 'Gee, look at how it's cleaning the streets,' and it's quite the opposite," Montgomery said.

That's why the city is working on the $1.4 billion Big Pipe project, which is a requirement of the Clean Water Act. The project will reduce by 94 percent the excessive sewage overflow that occurs on rainy days.

Aside from the Big Pipe project, the city intends to use the River Plan to address and prioritize public investment projects that would give an economic lift to the industrial land bordering the river.

The total bill for these public investment projects is expected to top $600 million. Most of the projects, however, already exist, including the renovation of a bridge on North Going Street connecting to Swan Island.

Additionally, the city would like to improve its traffic lights in order to decrease congestion.Among the largest proposed changes will be to rail service. Drafters of the River Plan North Reach phase are looking to institute a "small shipper" policy, Kountz said, which would benefit smaller companies looking to use rail.

Because rail transportation has grown steadily in the last decade, the railroads are shedding smaller companies in favor of larger ones. The city will work to change that by creating loading zones, owned by third parties, specifically for smaller businesses.

"Within this industrial area," Kountz said, "we've worked out a lot of the policies that will be worked out in the rest of the city."

Originally published by Tyler Graf.

(c) 2008 Daily Journal of Commerce (Portland, OR). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.