PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Pearl District residents were in a not-in-our-back-yard mood last week as a proposed Hyatt Hotel and residential tower went before the design commission. A group called Pearl Neighbors for Integrity in Design (PNID) carrying printed signs packed the normally sparsely attended Type 3 design commission hearing at 5 p.m. on July 18. Over two dozen people attended from PNID.
Representatives of designer OTAK faced the panel of architects that make the design commission, but it was the general public’s testimony that set the tone of the meeting.
PNID, led by its president, motivational speaker Patricia Cliff, claims that the 23-story Hyatt Place at 350 N.W. 12th Ave. will be out of place in the neighborhood. The 23-story tower will be the tallest building in the South Pearl district. While tall buildings such as the Cosmopolitan and the Vista Pearl are becoming common in the North Pearl 10 blocks away, Cliff and allies claim that Hyatt Tower will be too tall for the quarter block site at Northwest 12th and Flanders Street.
Since 2018, building code allows for buildings up to 250 feet in this neighborhood, the same height as the proposed Hyatt Tower. The building would be 11 stories of apartments and 11 stories of Hyatt Hotel rooms.
One speaker was mortgage broker David Dysert of the Pearl District Neighborhood Association. (He spoke the week before at a similar hearing about the Holden In Pearl senior living center prosed for Northwest 13th and Quimby Street, saying that the development should activate the street instead of siloing its residents.)
Dysert said the massing of the building was wrong, and that it should at least step back from the street to avoid being overbearing. A graphic was shown on screen with all the sites at which a 250-foot-tall could be built, with a white obelisk marking the spot. Dysert said the Hyatt could start a trend of tall buildings in the South Pearl.
“There needs to be some serious carving of the facade. There’s been a lot of facade play, to try to deal with the fact that it’s just basically a straight up shoe box.”
Many of the commissioners noted that the Pearl is already a mixed-use area with a very mixed bag of architectural styles.
Cliff agreed that the tower is too big compared to the buildings around it.
“I’d like to emphasize that the members of the Pearl community that we represent are not opposed to development.” She added that they support Vibrant City’s seven-story building at 25 North Fargo St. and suggest they go small in the Pearl, too. “There would be little community opposition to this type of development. We suggest the developer go back to the drawing board and come up with an attractive proposal that is similar in size, massing and height for apartments and retail for this type of space,” said Cliff.
Most PNID members ceded their 5-minute allocations so that land use lawyer of Bateman Seidel, Carrie Richter, could make the case against the building at length.
Richter said one of the main objections is that Flanders is part of the Northwest Flanders Greenway bike path, a bikeway from Slabtown through to the Pearl and across the river, and that cars pulling up to the hotel would block their way.
She noted an ODOT study showing the 100-foot loading zone at the Hampton Inn causes traffic to double park, arguing the proposed 12-foot loading zone at the Hyatt tower would be far worse. The Hampton Inn occupies four fifths of the block, the Hyatt would be just a quarter of a block, increasing density and pressure on the entrances.
The Hyatt has no proposed parking, which suggests residents who refuse to go carless will park on surrounding streets, and hotel guests will keep the front busy with taxis, ride shares and mini buses.
Richter called the building’s approach to bicycling “a compete afterthought.” The internal bike parking spaces were too small, the bike elevator would be unusable for a family of four, and the doors and hallways to the bike room were too narrow.
“This is ground zero for bicycle-supportive housing. This is going to be where every bicyclist wants to live. But bicycling is a complete afterthought and in this building the entrance is relegated to a tiny spot on the equivalent of the back of the building.”
They spent a good deal of time talking about moving the balconies around to break up the facade. The architects pointed out that the design rules say every new building in the Pearl must have a water feature or water-themed art. In this case there will be a cascade of water running over a bas relief image of Tanner Creek. The commission had previously criticized the water feature for being too big and awkwardly placed near the hotel entrance.
The building will be covered in black metal paneling, which is something the PNID and the commission thought inappropriate, saying there were no other black buildings in the neighborhood. Commissioner Jessica Molinar objected to this look.
A local resident called Arthur Lewellan of Station Place Tower, which overlooks the Post Office, focused on transportation. He turned in a 500-word essay about the importance of mass transit, hybrid vehicles and “the folly of the self-driving car.”
“I got into transportation planning in the ’90s. We’re not going to be able to count on the self-driving car for solving our problems, and that changes the nature of development.” He ran out of time but was given a more time to talk about context, which he then ceded.
Former OPB broadcaster K.C. Cowan introduced herself as “that rarest of all things, a native Portlander. And for the last 10 years I’ve been living in the Pearl at Northwest Ninth Avenue.”
She said it was her first design commission meeting and read on the city’s website that their purview was ‘To provide leadership and expertise on urban design, architecture, and maintaining and enhancing Portland’s historical and architectural heritage.’ Based on that statement alone, you should deny this project as it stands.”
Cowan objected to the height. “Twenty-three stories does not fit in any way with the character and the aesthetic of the neighborhood. Twenty-three stories will stick out like a sore thumb towering over all the other buildings and dominating the skyline. Such a building would work in the far north end of the Pearl…But it simply doesn’t work in the south end, not now. Not ever. It will make the neighborhood look crowded, awkward, and it’ll destroy the architectural and historical heritage we have in place.”
She implored the commission, “All these people in this room call this home. Please do what’s right for the neighborhood and the residents. Not what the developers want. They build, they make their money and they leave. The city gets all the fees and taxes. And then they kind of forget about us.”
The architects put off the vote and will return on Sept. 19 when there is more time to press their case.
Sunray and Solterra
Ray Harrigill is with Sunray of Madison, Mississippi, the co-developer with Vibrant City (which used to be known as Solterra). A week later Harrigill told the Business Tribune that while they are within their rights to build up to 250 feet and probably won’t reduce the height, they are open to other suggestions, from the design commission and the public.
“We’re not going to make everyone happy in this development. This was our fourth meeting, and we met with (Pearl District) neighborhood association twice. We always take the information and desires and try to incorporate it into the design, but we can’t take everything. We need a balance between a great project and doing what everyone asks for.”
He stressed that design review is a reactive process, with lots of back and forth. And while it would be preferable if the next meeting on Sept. 19 were the final one, they are prepared to go longer.
“It’s a back and forth between selection of materials and cost. No one can afford to build the Taj Mahal today. If it doesn’t pencil out, you don’t do it. But we’re nowhere near that scenario.”
Harrigill said they sometimes get mixed signals. “Some of the comments we were faced with this time were about comments from previous changes.” That is, they were criticized for changes they had made to accommodate previous criticism.
“More of our entrances were on Flanders St, as a requirement of the city, so we flipped it. In the end we’re being challenged again.”
One concession they are ready to make is reconfiguring the bike entrance, bike elevator and bike lobby. “They’re all in play We take every one seriously.”
They could have set the next meeting before Sept. 19 but they knew the work would take more design time. “We requested a later meeting to make substantial changes.”
Tower down, lawyer up
The attorney for PNID, Carrie Richter, told the Business Tribune she thought the design commission is especially interested in the Hyatt Place tower because “it is precedent-setting, because it is seven stories taller than the nearest tall building, and one block from a historic district.” The latter stretches up to the old firehouse at Northwest 15th and Flanders).
Richter said the commission was concerned about the amount of program at street level – pedestrian access, valet parking, bike access for residents and loading, just as her clients are.
They mainly want the building sculpted for compatibility with the surroundings.
Asked if she thought the developer would access to requests to reduce the height from 23 stories to seven, Richter pointed out they could go lower, since their original request was for 12 stories.
“My hope is that the applicant will significantly revise the design in light of our comments and meet with the PDNA and my clients PNID.”
She pointed out that the Modera Glisan’s designers agreed to a step back, meaning the taller part is thinner than the podium, which allows more light at street level and less of a sense of crowding.
She said the designers could “make up for the height by doing something else, by having a coherent base to hold this tall building, or by using fantastic materials to make it seem less massive.”
For example, the nearby Casey apartments uses glass from a local glass maker, and reuses local brick.
She said the Pearl guidelines are “very vague” which gives the design commission a lot of flexibility.
“PNID and the neighborhood association are not opposed to any development,” she repeated. “We’re hoping for a conversation. There’s a lot of expertise in the neighborhood. My hope is we don’t spend more money on lawyers than on good design.” She added that sometimes it takes lawyers like herself to get people talking.
“I would rather people would take the money and put on good design and quality amenities for a building that people can live with for 100 years.”
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