The 1903 Pacific States Telephone & Telegraph Building at 532 SE Ankeny is a fantastic piece of architecture in Portland’s Central East Side. The former home of the Sally Mack School of Dance, is recognized as a primary resource within the East Portland Grand Avenue Historic District. To the rear of the building, on SE 6th, is a modest little wood-framed Italianate building, dating to perhaps 1871, which would make it one of the oldest buildings on the east side of town. This building too is part of the historic district. In fact, these two structures represent the northeastern corner of the district – so what’s the big deal, they’re protected, right?
Recently the property owner applied to change the zoning, that if approved, would allow them to reduce the number of required parking spaces – among other things. Seems innocuous enough, until it was discovered that the owner’s intention is to move one or more of these buildings to maximize the redevelopment potential. As of 12/31, the Bureau of Development Services recommended approval of the zone change.
This issue gets to the heart of something we are increasingly concerned about – something we call “truth in permitting”. While the property owner admitted that the zone change was a first step toward a redevelopment of the property, the zoning change request was not put before the Portland Landmarks Commission, who typically review development that involves designated historic buildings.
In fact this was the BDS response to our concerns: “Information regarding the potential impacts to the historic district is not relevant to this review and therefore will not be discussed in the findings of the staff report.”
In a nut shell, even though a redevelopment has been suggested, it is looked at as a completely separate issue. Neither Landmarks – nor anyone else for that matter – are given a voice on the “historic” issue, even though it will certainly lead directly to a Landmarks review once the actual development and building move is proposed. It seems that the more appropriate response would be for the BDS to notify all entities from the outset. It is just this sort of pigeon-holed review that increases animosity between area residents, developers, and the City.
We’re keeping our eyes open for what happens next, but we certainly hope that the buildings are some day rehabilitated and that they both remain part of the historic district of which they are integral components.