Old Northwest Meet New Northwest

Savier Flats Being developed by Mill Creek Residential Trust.

Northwest Portland is one of the city’s most love and historic neighborhood. It is also one of the densest with numerous old apartment buildings covering much of the area, especially east of NW 23rd. With its walkability and charm it is a quintessential Portland neighborhood and what many people imagine when they think of our fair city. It also a neighborhood about to gain a lot of new residents. At least 7 new buildings are some where in the development pipeline, with the two biggest already under construction. Collectively they will add 500+ apartment and over 10,000 square feet of retail to the neighborhood. Let’s meet the new neighbors:

Savier Flats

Already under construction, Savier Flats is the biggest development by far. With 179 units, 130 parking spots (below grade) and 6,000 feet of retail it will have an impact. It is being developed by Mill Creek Residential Trust, a large national developer,and is designed by SERA. It is located on two parcel on opposite sides of NW Savier between 22nd and 23rd. It is to consist of two, four story buildings. The design advice request can be seen here. As you can see from the rendering above it is using a neo-historic style which no doubt helps calm neighbors nerves, but did not stop the Willamette Week from calling it the “eye-sore of the week” before construction even began.

20 Pettygrove

20 Pettygrove. Image from the project website.

Scheduled for completion in May 2012, the 20 Pettygrove is another large project at 90 units. It is designed by William Wilson Architects. More information can be found at the project web site.


D16. Image from Brett Schultz Architects.

At 20 units, the D20 is one of the smaller projects under construction. It it a small infill project at the corner of Davis and 16th on a 100′ x 100′ lot. The architect is Brett Schultz Architects.

23rd and Lovejoy

23rd and Lovejoy Apartments. Image from SERA Architects.

23rd and Lovejoy Apartments. Image from SERA Architects.

The 23rd and Lovejoy is one of several projects being developed by C. E. John company, a Vancouver, Washington based developer/construction/management company. The project consists of 92 units of studio, one and two bedroom market-rate apartments over 2,000 square feet of retail. The project is targeting LEED Gold. There was recently a DJC article about the projects distinction of being one of the only developments approved to use vinyl windows.

1616 NW 23rd

1616 NW 23rd - West Elevation. Image from Portland Design Commission.

1616 NW 23rd - South Elevation. Image from Portland Design Commission.

The next project is also by C. E. John, but this time designed by GBD. It consists of 24 units over 4,500 square feet of retail in four stories. The project includes 18 parking spaces, 17 of which are mechanical parking. The report to the design commission can be found here.

NW Raleigh and 23rd. Image from the Willamette Week

This project is also notable because it is slated to replace a beloved Northwest institution, the New Old Lompoc. The Willamette Week did a blurb on it, which is where the image above came from. I am sure that many a person will be pouring out a little IPA in respect when they start doing demo for this building.

Slabtown Flats

Slabtown Flats. Image from the City of Portland Pre-application conference submittal.

L:ocated at NW Raleigh and 20th is yet another project by C. E. John, but now using Holst Architecture, designer of such notable housing projects as the Belmont Street Lofts, Clinton Condos and, just up the street, the Thurman Street Lofts. The plan as submitted to city is for 40 units in two, three story building and at grade parking for 35 vehicles.

The Sheldon

Not a lot of information on this project, even if it is alive or dead. It is a proposed 62 unit senior cooperative at the corner of NW 19th and Lovejoy. There was a  Portland Business Journal Article about it a while back. They have a website for soliciting new members if you  want more information.

Next up, the Conway land. They have been working their way through the permit system and we will no doubt hear a lot more about that in the future.


Portland’s Low Vacancy Rate Points Towards More Development to Come

Portland Unemployment and Vacancy by Year. From the PSU Center for Real Estate Quarterly-2011

According to an article in Friday’s Oregonian Portland is tied with Minneapolis for the second lowest apartment vacancy in the nation, behind only New York. This data comes from a National Association of Realtors Survey that puts the vacancy in Portland at a shockingly low 2.5%, well below the national average of 4.7%. This is backed up by similar, if slightly differing numbers from other real estate reports from groups such as the PSU Center for Real Estate or Norris, Beggs, and Simpson’s market reports. This is clear to anyone who has looked for an apartment lately as the competition is noticeable. An example of this is the Move the House Apartment in Southeast Portland. Completed in July 2011 by the Urban Development Partners it was fully leased almost immediately while asking Northwest/Pearl rents for its humble Division Street location.

Move The House at 3810 SE Division by Urban Development Partners. Image from UDP website

The Portland unemployment rate has fallen to 8.7%, which while too high is the lowest it has been in three year. The economy both nationally and locally seem to be heading in a positive direction but the area has seen low levels for new apartment construction. According to the Barry Apartment Report permits where issues for only 1,559 units for the year ending in October 2011, up from 1,000 units for the same period a year earlier. For comparison, 4,700 permits were issued per year on average between 2004 and 2009. The Barry report estimates permits wil be issued for 2,000 to 2,500 units next year, substantially more than we have seen since the onset of the great recession, if a lot fewer than before.

This all lead to the prospects of many of the projects we have seen proposed recently actually materializing and being joined by others. More development, especially housing, could help invigorate parts of the city in need of life. Portland as a whole is still relatively un-dense. In 2010 the city had a density of 4,346.8 people/square mile which puts us just ahead of Las Vegas (4,298.6) and well behind such cities as Seattle (7,254.6), Minneapolis (7,084.8) and Los Angeles (8,091.8). This would not be bad in and of itself, but when I look around the city I see numerous neighborhood that could benefit greatly from increased residential density. Areas such as Lloyd Center/Rose Quarter, parts of Downtown, Gateway, and many of the neighborhood commercial strips such as Interstate, East Burnside, Broadway and Sandy could be aided in their revitalization by having more residents. This in addition to part of the city that are on-going development projects such as South Waterfront, the North Pearl and Conway that have yet to be fully built out. In addition, the city has already laid the foundation for long term growth by spending billions on transit and other infrastructure to support more residents and has plans to spend billions more.

Portland Streetcar System Concept Plan. From The City of Portland.

But what about the potential for over-building? The issue was recently raised in the DJC by Creston Homes project manager David Mullens. The article points out that many of the new projects are relatively small and that demand is high. So while the risk always exists, and past real estate practice has been to always over build, the trend now seems sustainable. It is also worth reiterating the current permit trend versus past permit trends discussed above in light of population growth. According to the US Census, from 2000 to 2010 the population of Portland proper grew by 10.3 % or about 54,000 (the equivalent of adding all of Corvalis, Sherwood of Tigard to the city). All of those people need places to live. Presumably the city with its growing national prominence and reputation, west coast location and affordability will continue to experience growth in the next ten years like we have in the previous ten. Barring the unexpected, I don’t see Portland loosing its appeal to migrants any time soon.

The Pied Piper of Portland?

What do you think about the future of development in Portland? Comment with any thoughts about where we have been and where we are going.

Back from the Grave: The Return of Transit Oriented Development on North Interstate Avenue

Killingsworth Station. Image courtesy of the Oregonian

Two project along Interstate Avenue long thought dead, Jarrett Street Lofts and Prescott Station, have come back to life and a third, Killingsworth Station, that had been on life support for years was recently completed. Both of which fullfil the intentions of the city and regions investments in light rail to spur transit oriented development in inner Portland rather than greenfield development on the periphery.

According to the Portland Development Commission, the Interstate light rail line and Urban Renewal Area (URA) was designed to:

  • Spur mixed-use development along the light rail corridor and station areas while distributing public investment fairly and evenly among other impacted areas within the district.
  • Create new jobs and housing opportunities for a range of incomes as well as for existing residents.
  • Develop new housing that is transit supportive, compatible with the existing neighborhood, maximizes infrastructure improvements, reuses vacant and underutilized property, and strikes a balance between homeownership, rental, and displacement of existing residents.
  • Create wealth through expansion of existing businesses, fostering a healthy business environment, and generate family wage jobs.
  • Improve transportation corridors to encourage the use of alternative modes of travel, maintain and improve access, create a pedestrian-friendly environment, and mitigate traffic impacts associated with new growth.
  • Promote community livability through strategic improvements to parks, open space, trails, historic and cultural resources, and community facilities.

The rail line cost $350 million and was completed in 2004. Unfortunately, while it was completed in the midst of the condo boom, by the time developers began proposing projects the steam was running out of the real estate market. While a few projects managed to get built, several large projects that were proposed faded with economy. In the years since, the City has adopted the North Interstate Corridor Plan to encourage dense development along the light rail corridor and which allows for buildings up to 125′ tall (about 11 stories) in station areas with design review and special conditions. This creates great opportunity for transforming the relatively sleep and small scale street into a major urban avenue that will help define the area.

What could have been: The Montanas, Proposed at one time for near the Lombard Max station. Image from Myhre Group Architects.

Prior to the real estate crash, only a few projects of any significance to the character of Interstate Avenue got build. They include the Patton Park Apartments (2009) developed by REACH, an affordable housing group, and designed by SERA Architects. The 54 unit mixed-use project was built on land provided by Trimet. The transit agency bought the land to support the development of affordable transit oriented development. Details about the project from REACH can be found here. The other development of note is the Overlook (2008), another mixed-use project consisting of 24 condos over a bit of retail. For more information Brian Libby did a good story on it when it was build that can be found here.

Patton Park Apartments. Image source unknown.

Since the onset of the Great Recession very little building has occurred anywhere, let alone North Interstate, and what has has largely been heavily subsidized. A example of this is Killingsworth Station (pictured at the start of this article) at the corner of Killingsworth and Interstate. It is a four story mixed-use project developed by Winkler Development in partnership with the PDC and designed by Vallaster Corl Architects. The project contains 57 ownership housing units above retails condo space. It only managed to get built due to a very high level of subsidy form the PDC, Trimet  and Metro. I often question the use of taxpayer subsidies for projects that in the end are still not that cheap and do not serve those who might otherwise be displaced. That being said the project is a strong urban addition to the area. It creates a substantial street wall at a key intersection in contrast to the two single-story buildings and a gas station that occupy the other corners. It also brings housing and eyes to the street and, assuming the retail space is ever leased, provides an active and engaging edge to the sidewalk.

Just three blocks to the north the Lofts at Jarrett streets is back from the dead and well underway at the northeast corner of Jarrett and Interstate after many years of promise. The project consists of 30 apartment over almost 2000 square feet of retail in four stories. Like Killingsworth Station it will help to activate the street and reenforce Interstate as a important avenue.

The Lofts at Jarrett Street. Image from the project website.

The second revived project is the Prescott Station at the corner of Skidmore and Interstate. It is of a truly different scale than anything built thus far on Interstate. It is to have 155 market rate apartments over 9,500 sf commercial spaces and underground parking. That would be more housing units that all the other projects mentioned combined and at 6 stories it would be the tallest thing built of the street yet. According the DJC it is permitted and has financing so should break ground in March. The development group is connected to Sierra Construction, which is also behind the proposed New Seasons at Williams and Fremont. The architect is the Myhre Group, who are also designing a number of small infill projects around town, most notable the apartment building under construction next to Hollywood Theater. Prescott Station would be a major milestone fo Interstate and hopefully a symbol of things to come.

Prescott Station. Rendering from the Myhre Group Architects.

Despite all of the investment by the PDC and other agencies in Interstate Avenue, in many ways the street is a failure as an urban corridor. For containing some of the highest capacity transit in the metro region it lack any sort of density – most of the area around the stations are comprised of single family houses or very small scale apartment complexes of two stories or less. It also lacks activity or sense of place that would make it an attractive location to area residents or to visit from outside the neighborhood. Walking the Avenue the experience is lack luster as you pass sad low-slung buildings and single family houses. The street use to be a major corridor into the city as the route for highway 99 through Portland. Now, as a major transit corridor it needs to embrace its role as an important avenue once again. The projects discussed above represent steps in the right direction. Each project fills in a little piece in making a great street. Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future these will be isolated incidents of dense urbanism in an otherwise small scale street. Hopefully these island of urbanism will soon be joined by other projects and gain the critical mass of residents and activity needed to start to feel like cohesive places. Only then will Interstate live up to the aspirations of the Portland Development Commission and its potential as one of the great avenues of Portland.

UPDATE: Another apartment project has been proposed at 5118 N. Interstate, just south of Patton Park Apartments. The details are vague as the information comes from the city of Portland land use intakes. An early assistance request was submitted on February 23rd by Ankrom Moisan Architects, the same folk who designed the Milano Apartments currently under construction down the hill at NE 1st and Multnomah, for a four story apartment building on a site that currently occupied by single family homes.

More Apartments for Belmont

West (Property Line) Elevation. From City of Portland Public Notice.

Another small infill project has been proposed for Southeast Portland. The current trend in development seems to be small projects throughout the city in solid to emerging neighborhoods with good bike/pedestrian/transit options. This latest one at the northwest corner of Belmont and 38th fits the pattern. It is to contain 18 apartment over 11 parking space and one small retail space fronting Belmont. The team behind it is the same one responsible for the NuMiss on Mississippi Avenue: the owner/developer is BCMC Properties and the architect is Surround Architecture. The NuMiss was a small office/retail project that turned out quite nice in my opinion, especially compared to some of the other project built on Mississippi around the same time. I hope this project is as nicely scaled as that. If so it will be a solid addition to the neighborhood and at the very least vastly superior to the parking lot that currently occupies the site.

NuMiss on Mississippi Avenue. Image from Surround Architecture, Inc.

Workforce Housing is the New Luxury Condo

Milan Apartments. Image courtesy of the Oregonian

According to the OregonianThis friday Civitas Development will break ground on the Milano, a new 60 unit apartment building, at the corner of NE 1st and Multnomah. This is notable for the fact that it is the first new housing in the Lloyd/Rose Quarter area (a part of the city that could definitely benefit from new development of any sort) in quite some time. That is not why I am writing about it. Rather, it is because it is a work force housing project with very little parking. For its 60 units it will have only 12 parking spaces for cars and 50 for bikes. It has smaller units, it is located with good transit access and is aiming at an affordable price point.  Recently there have been a number of projects that have either broken ground or are proposed that could be described the same way. It seems that the in this nether world between recession and full recovery striped down workforce housing is the new luxury condo.

Looking around the city at the development underway and the trend seems clear. In the North Pearl/Squish neighborhood between 14th and 15th on Pettygrove Street Fosler architects‘ Freedom Center 1 (horrible name by the way) is well underway. It might be the most extreme. It is a complex of three 50’x100’ building containing 150 studio apartment. The units will be 300 square feet and no parking is proposed. With such small units it is no surprise that the target market is students and other young people who do not have much money and who use the city as their living room.

Image from Fosler Architects

These two projects are not alone. Creston Homes has a number of project either underway or proposed in the same vein. Most notable they have just broke ground on a project that has generated quite a bit of controversy due to its proximity to the Hollywood Theater. That project is a 47 unit building of one and two bedroom apartments over 3,500 square feet of retail with no parking provided. The architects is the Myhre Group. They are also close to starting another apartment building in the Buckman neighborhood at the corner of SE 20th and Morrison. It is to have  71 small units ranging from 371 to 900 square feet and no on site parking. According to the Hollywood Star News back in the Hollywood neighborhood another project is being proposed at the corner of NE 41st and Tillamook possible also by Creston Homes. The proposal is for a 4 story + basement building with 58 units and no parking. Developer Mark Madden also has a project at NE 24th and Glisan that would fall into this same category. It call for 32 live/work units in a three stroy building with no parking.

Buckman Apartments. Image courtesy Myhre Group/DJC

In articles in both the DJC and the Oregonian people from Creston Homes talk about the niche they are filling for small affordable apartments. The units cater to young people who can afford to/desire to live alone but really can’t pay that much. Location is crucial both in terms of proximity to amenities and transit. They also mention the niche of small affordable infill buildings, mainly of the eastside, that are able to pencil out and seem to be fairly recession proof. They occupy small parcels, they use economical construction systems, the market they are aimed at is broad and deep, and like the Hollywood Apartments they often are small enough to slip through the permitting process without too much trouble.  I imagine that if the current economic malaise continues then we can look forward to a lot more project like these and lot fewer new South Waterfront towers.

My friend in Seattle recently started his own architecture firm and one of their first projects is congregate housing on Capitol Hill. It is 56, 200 to 300 square foor units each with its own bathroom but with kitchens shared by 7 or 8 unts. One developer up there who has been building these projects for a while copy-wrote the term “Apodments” to describe this type of building. He has done a number of project on Capitol Hill and the U District, both neighborhoods with high densities of young people with lots of things to do that do not involve sitting around the house or cooking. They rent for $500 to $600 a month and apparently he cannot build them fast enough due to their popularity. In economically constrained times is this our new reality? Or, regardless of the economy is this housing for the non-domestic and economically constrained people just a niche that needs filling and will be with us regardless of what the economy does? What do you think?

Apodments are our future?