Planners at the City of Portland’s Bureu of Planning are hard at work on a much-needed update to the Central City Plan. The plan was last updated in 1988, and much has changed since that time. It seems that mixed-use development and urban revitalization has happened along just about every major commercial street in the city. However, very little has changed in Brooklyn’s commercial districts. The new Portland Plan just may be our chance to change that.
The Brooklyn Action Corps Board has been examining the issue of commercial development for several years now. We have met with numerous property and business owners during that time, and what we have heard time and again is that our exisitng zoning plan is a mess. We currently have single family homes zoned for commercial use. We have commercial buildings where only residential uses are now allowed. We have industrial properties where current owners can’t remodel or expand their operations because their are strict limits on the amount of space that can be used for “office purposes”. We have “General Commercial” zones that require significant parking lots to be built in corridors with heavy transit use. And most distressing of all, we have a rich fabric of historic buildings with very little protection from being torn down or remodeled beyond recognition.
The era of Brooklyn serving as a warehousing district is over. The big guys left for the suburbs a long time ago. Case in point, Fred Meyer moved its distribution center to Clackamas nearly thirty years ago. Many smaller companies have followed them in the years since. Warehousing is no longer dependent on the railroads, and proximity to the central city is now more of a hinderance than a help. The medium sized manufacturing and light industrial companies that have continued to call Brooklyn home are also in decline. Corporate mergers and the establishment of off shore production centers have picked these long time residents off one by one.
The future of Brooklyn’s commercial districts is up to us to decide. Clearly, the presence of the Brooklyn Rail Yards will keep Brooklyn from becoming a trendy, overly hip and fashiopnable, Pearl District type neighborhood. Stable, high paying, blue-collar jobs have defined our past. And they should define our future as well.
A comprehensive update of the area’s zoning maps would go a long ways towards encouraging economic redevelopment. Brooklyn already has a mix of differing land uses, lets build upon that. Let’s allow mixed use developments like those on Hawthorne and Division be built along Milwaukie Avenue. Let’s rezone our historic commercial buildings so that they can be used for what they were built for. Let’s protect affordable housing by making sure that our existing stock of single family homes can continue to be used to house families. Let’s allow some condos and townhouses to be built along Milwaukie and SE 17th so that there is a greater variety of housing options available for those that want to buy into the neighborhood without having to spend $375,000 for a house. And most importantly, let’s move forward with the generation old dream of a Brooklyn Historic District.
The Portland Plan will soon be asking area residents for their input on how Portland should evolve and grow over the next generation. Let’s make sure that they don’t forget about Brooklyn this time around. I will be an eager particiapant in the public involvement process, and I hope that you will be too.
Please check out the following web site for additional information: http://www.portlandonline.com/portlandplan/
Lance Lindahl, Chair of the Brooklyn Action Corps