PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Crumbling concrete and rebar marked the site of the former Freeman water tank property on Oct. 16. The massive decommissioned water tank was demolished, signaling headway on a residential development project.

The site is slated to be subdivided into three lots for new single-family homes.

“They’ll be three lots, and they’ll be building sometime early in 2021,” said Jeff Shrope, a land buyer for development firm Renaissance Homes, which owns the property.

In 2012, the land at 8711 Southwest 42nd Ave. was sold to Lake Oswego-based Renaissance Homes, to the chagrin of most who lived nearby. The property was owned by the city of Portland from 1964 up until its sale, according to city records.

The property transaction angered Southwest Portland residents and sparked a lawsuit and temporary court injunction from the Multnomah Neighborhood Association in 2014. The neighbors alleged the city didn’t follow the correct procedures in its attempt to sell off the property. The neighborhood group eventually backed off after a judge ruled against them and the sale went through.

The city had owned the property since 1964, before it was declared surplus property in 2010, according to city records. In 2012, the city’s water bureau placed a listing for the property on the online classified site Craigslist, asking $187,000. Four years prior in 2008, the property had been assessed at $240,000. By September of 2012, the city agreed to sell it to Renaissance Homes for $140,000.

An aerial view shows the Freeman water tank site in a Southwest Portland neighborhood. (Courtesy Alvaro Fontan)

The site sat dormant until recently.

“The Neighborhood worked hard to raise the money to hire a lawyer to ask a judge to stay the sale since it violated state law requiring public notification for the sale of public property. Unbelievably, the judge ruled against the stay,” Maria Thi Mai, president of the Multnomah Neighborhood Association, said last week.

Excavators and construction crews made their way around the massive above-ground tank Friday, Oct. 16, estimating they’d have it knocked out in the next three days. Shrope reported on Oct. 22 the tank was “about 90% gone.”

While neighbors of the demolition and construction project didn’t win their fight against the city, their legal challenge catalyzed the city to audit its own processes and procedures for handling surplus property.

“After the property was sold, the Multnomah Neighborhood Association worked with Commissioner (Nick) Fish to pass an ordinance requiring the notification to (neighborhood associations) when public property within their boundaries is sold, plus a bunch of other requirements to bring the City’s procedures in compliance with state law,” Thi Mai noted.

Moses Ross is a past president of the neighborhood group who was active in the efforts to pause the sale of the Freeman tank property.

“Hopefully our actions will prevent anyone else from having to go through what we did,” Ross said of the legal battle.

After the controversial property sale, an internal audit revealed room for improvement in the city’s surplus property management.

“Since the Freeman Tank property sale demonstrated that at least one City bureau lacked transparent procedures for the sale of surplus real property, we decided to audit the City’s structure for real property management,” a 2015 audit report prepared for the Portland City Council states. The report noted “no overall strategy” or guidance for how the city manages the properties it owns, and no clear idea of how many sites the city owned.

“The City lacks a comprehensive inventory of City-owned real property and is not periodically reviewing real property holdings,” the audit report stated.