From The Editor

City approves strongly-contested zoning change in Westmoreland
This close-up from a city map of the Westmoreland business property in question shows its previous zoning, and – in the diagonal line wandering down parallel to Oaks bluff, angling downward leftward through the entire property – the former landslide risk area which extends for fifty feet from both sides of that line. Read on to find out what has happened to that hazard zone, and why it was ignored.
This close-up from a city map of the Westmoreland business property in question shows its previous zoning, and – in the diagonal line wandering down parallel to Oaks bluff, angling downward leftward through the entire property – the former landslide risk area which extends for fifty feet from both sides of that line. Read on to find out what has happened to that hazard zone, and why it was ignored. (Courtesy City of Portland)

This story began months ago – with a request for a zoning change on a commercial property which stretches from S.E. Insley on the north to Reedway on the south, on the west side of Milwaukie Avenue. There are two-story business buildings there now, and a sizeable parking lot in the center of the property, facing the west end of Harold Street.

The property actually crosses over the Oaks Bottom bluff at the northwest corner, and the geologically-recognized landslide zone near the lip of the bluff affects much of the property.

The story starts with a request by the landowner to upzone this property to permit very high residential density – in the form of one or more apartment buildings which could soar as much as 75 feet high, right on the edge of Oaks Bottom, in a landslide zone.

There were several facts which took the neighborhood’s objection to this zoning change well beyond any suspicion of it being a “NIMBY” issue – that stands for “not in my back yard”. First, the zoning change, if the tentative City Council approval of the zoning change is confirmed as expected, would be the very first exception to the existing Portland “Comprehensive Plan Map” anywhere in the city.

Second, Oaks Bottom is more than just a wilderness area – it is also a unique city wildlife reserve, administered by Portland Parks & Recreation. It’s a protected part of the city.

Third, there is that landslide zone – which is more than just theoretical. As the writer of a Letter to the Editor pointed out in our May issue: On March 25, 2011, following two inches of rain having fallen on the last day of February, “There were several landslides along the bluff overlooking Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. One slide endangered a house [just one block from this property]. The trail at Oaks Bottom, the Springwater Trail, and the feeder trail to and from the parking lot on Milwaukie Avenue [at Mitchell Street] were all closed for some time. The entire slope below the house at 1433 S.E. Reedway was slipping away, and [eventually] the house had to be moved.” She enclosed a photo – taken by THE BEE at the time.

Another point was that the existing public transportation at the site was inadequate to meet the needs of such a large residential development, under the city’s own rules. You would think that that alone would have ruled out making such a first-ever exception to the city’s Comprehensive Plan Map for this location.

And, SMILE submitted an alternate plan in its testimony that would still permit an apartment development on that land and would not endanger any residents of apartments there the next time two inches of rain falls on the lip of the Oaks Bottom bluff! (If you think such rainfall seldom occurs, consider that 2.25 inches of rain fell on January 3rd of this year!)

Oh, and at last count, there were 606 signatures on a petition asking the city to reject this application – and more have come in since.

But none of those facts and arguments, developed by the SMILE neighborhood association’s Land Use Committee and adopted by the SMILE Board as testimony in this major rezoning case, apparently carried any weight with the city Hearings Officer, who sent it on to the City Council with a recommendation to approve the rezoning request as submitted, earlier this year.

Nor did any of those facts and arguments apparently trouble the Portland City Council in giving its tentative approval of the plan by a vote of 4-0, with one Councilor absent. And those knowledgeable about the current form of city government here assure us that there is no chance at all that this decision will not be confirmed formally by this same City Council – it may already have been done by the time this issue of THE BEE reaches you.

We would be remiss, however, if we didn’t add that the City Council, in its tentative approval, did impose two minor conditions and one significant condition on any development built there under this zoning change; the one significant condition was that any structure there could not exceed 65 feet in height, instead of the 75 feet that the zoning would normally allow. But you can still build six stories in your building with a 65 foot height limit.

Were these added conditions the result of concern about the landslide zone, and the possibility that a tall development on the edge of the Oaks Bottom bluff could be undermined by earth movement? No it was not. They were simply added as a nod to the adjacent Oaks Bottom, a public wildlife refuge.

So why did the landslide risks not enter into the approval process? The risks have been mapped and established by the Oregon Department of Geology, proven by history, and even were reflected in the city’s previous “Z overlay” in the original Residential Infill Plan.

Well, here’s a surprise: The Z overlay and the landslide zone, with their constraints, vanished from the city’s updated Residential Infill Plan – and with no notice to the affected neighborhood associations about the change. Was it a simply a mistake made in the rewrite of the second RIP? Or could it possibly have been – dare we say it – done deliberately?

The important thing to be reminded of is that no matter what the city does or doesn’t do in its paperwork, it cannot abolish the landslides themselves. They will take place even if they have been removed from the second Residential Infill Project. And not to include that danger in Portland’s land use planning process is outrageous.

David Schoellhamer, the extremely diligent and highly respected Chair of the SMILE Land Use Committee, says, “I am at a loss as to why a 100-foot-wide landslide zone has been removed. It’s obviously a landslide zone.”

He adds, about this entire proceeding at City Hall, “It’s been an awful experience. The city has two different planning processes – one through the BPS, and one through BDS, and they don’t seem very aligned…  It was a dissatisfying process; a very disillusioning experience.”

However, there is one more twist to this story we haven’t mentioned. The owner of the property was not applying for the zoning change in order to actually build the new, tall apartment building that the new zoning allows.

In a neighborhood meeting on the proposal on January 20 of this year, Blaine Whitney, the representative of the zone change applicant, said, “We are not the developer on this. We’re a group purchasing this land from the current owner, and working through this rezone process to try to capture some land value here. The land would eventually be sold to a developer in the future.” Blaine is a partner in Columbia Capital Group.

So it certainly seems as if the City of Portland went against its own Comprehensive Plan Map, and even against nature itself in the form of the landslide risk, simply as a friendly gesture to an investment group which simply wanted to make a bigger profit in a land resale.

How about that.

Letters to the Editor
Ms. Stromvig submitted this photo of the fundraiser in action, at this year’s Eastmoreland Garage Sale in June.
Ms. Stromvig submitted this photo of the fundraiser in action, at this year’s Eastmoreland Garage Sale in June.

Kabobs fundraiser in Eastmoreland


At the Eastmoreland Garage Sale, members of Moreland Presbyterian Church sold kebobs to raise money for the two Afghan families whom they are co-sponsoring with Lutheran Community Services. Both families made their way here through refugee camps and army bases, leaving family and possessions behind. Thanks to the generous donations and support from the church and the neighboring community, as well as the Rotary Club of Southeast Portland, both families were able to find housing and jobs. Both families live in the Sellwood and Westmoreland area, and are adjusting to the challenges of a new culture and language. Members and friends of Moreland Presbyterian Church continue to provide assistance with English learning, transportation to appointments, cultural and financial competency support (i.e., how to use a bank, pay bills), childcare, and driving lessons. Moreland Presbytrian has set up the “Afghan Family Support Fund” to assist the families where possible with rent, and with other needs that arise. For information about volunteering or donating to the Afghan Support Fund, please contact the church through the email address --  

Kathy Stromvig
via email


“BEE not fearmongering”


In regards to the Letter to the Editor in the July 2022 issue [“BEE is fearmongering”]: She states that a “surge” in gun crimes and a “very annoying” surge in car thefts is “no excuse for more cops”. And then she goes on to recite “the crimes that cops overlook”, like tax fraud, corporate theft, and environmental pollution. I ask this: What do these crimes have to do with the current situation in Portland? Do the facts that THE BEE reports actual crimes upset her? I guess so.

Corporate and political crimes have nothing to do with our recent rise in murders, robberies, carjackings, and theft in this once “weird” city.

As for our “racist” justice system: Our justice system prosecutes criminals, and has no business adjudicating cases based on a perpetrator’s race. Justice was meant to be blind, not stupid.

In closing: No one is born a criminal. That is a choice a person decides to make. And when they get caught they should face the consequences.

Do not vilify THE BEE. They report facts. That’s called journalism. As such, they could teach some of the larger newspapers a lesson. Cheers to THE BEE.

William Wolfe


Street widths do vary, in Southeast


As a resident of a neighborhood street in Inner Southeast Portland where one travels down the middle with cars parked on each side, there is always the risk of getting into a head-on situation. This is especially dangerous at the main street intersections.

It took me 25 years to realize that some in my neighborhood had streets were wide enough to let cars pass with cars parked on both sides. I have since changed my travel routes to use those wider streets where possible.

So that led me to the question of how wide are the streets in my neighborhood.

Taking the area bordered by Milwaukie Blvd continuing south on 17 on the east, the railroad tracks on the south, the river on the west and S.E. Bybee Blvd. on the north , I found the following.

Main streets Milwaukie, Bybee, Tacoma and 13th are all 35-36 feet wide. Where Milwaukie becomes 17th going south is a little narrower – 31 feet. You can feel the difference!

Rex, the street I was transiting every day is 27 feet 10 inches wide. But are all the non-main streets that narrower width? No! In surveying other streets in the defined area, I found other streets that are about 35 feet wide. Of the streets running N-S, this includes 15th south of Malden, and 11th. Wider streets running E-W includes the block on Rural and Ogden west of Milwaukie, Bidwell west of 15th, Miller, Spokane west of 13th, Umatilla, Harney, and Linn west of 13th. 

Sellwood Blvd. and 7th are in the 27’ width category, but do not present passing challenges [because] there is no parking permitted on the park side of 7th and there is usually no parking on the north side of Sellwood Blvd.

If you want a narrower street, travel on 15th Place south of Linn at 20’wide or on 16th south of Bybee at 22’ wide.

So why the different street widths on neighborhood streets? I will leave that for Dana Beck to determine.

Chuck Martin
S.E. Sellwood Blvd.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Dana may well address this in a future historical article, but we suspect that the main cause is that this part of the city was assembled as a patchwork of small developments, and each developer determined the widths and placement of the streets within his or her development in those days. That’s why so many streets start and stop, and jog this way and that at intersections, as you travel through Inner Southeast. We salute Mr. Martin for being the first resident we know of to systematically measure the widths of our streets!]


Getting back into action


If you happen to be walking along Woodstock Boulevard, you may notice me and my wife standing near a colorful cart, sharing a positive message and free Bible-based literature. Thousands of carts like this are rolling down streets worldwide as Jehovah's Witnesses officially recommence our global public preaching work after putting it on pause for two years.

I’ve seen that many in our community are experiencing anxiety and negativity caused by the pandemic, civil unrest and economic instability. I enjoy showing my neighbors the resources I use to navigate through these challenges. While Jehovah's Witnesses are not yet back to knocking on doors, we've had the chance to meet many at our carts who appreciate our work and have been positively affected by our message. So if you see us at a cart in your neighborhood, please don't be afraid to approach and initiate a conversation – even if it's just to say a friendly hello.

Ismael Franco


Error made in date


There was an error in the April BEE article “Homeless campfire singes powerlines at the south end of Sellwood”. The date of the incident is listed as Sunday, March 5th; March 5th was a Saturday. The fire was actually on the morning of Sunday, March 6th, 2022. I know this because multiple fiber-optic cables on the [nearby] utility poles were impacted – which had impacts beyond the power issues.

Andy Payne, Lead,
Data Center Network Architecture & Engineering
Oregon Health & Science University

EDITOR’S NOTE: We regret the error, and appreciate the correction.

Letters to the Editor may be submitted via e-mail by clicking HERE.

All letters to the editor are subject to editing for clarity and available space, and all letters become property of THE BEE.


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