Willamette Greenway trail link might wait decades if Tesla plan goes through

Willamette Greenway trail link might wait decades if Tesla plan goes through

tesla gap

(Image: Bob Cronk via South Waterfront Facebook group)

Half a mile south of the lonely riverside trail segment derided recently by The Oregonian as a “pathway to nowhere,” the city could miss a chance at a key connection.

Last week, Tesla Motors filed an application to convert an old metal-parts warehouse between Macadam Avenue and the Willamette River into an auto showroom.

But for people who would like to see a continuous riverside trail here, there’s bad news: a special section of city code exempts projects in the South Waterfront from having to connect greenway trail segments on their property unless they’re adding at least 50,000 square feet of new floor space. Because Tesla only plans to remodel the warehouse, not expand it, the unused space behind its shop wouldn’t have to redevelop.

The result is easy to see on Google Maps:

Screenshot 2016-05-04 at 2.09.58 PM

Here’s an overhead view of the area with satellite imagery. The vacant area between The Ardea and the Old Spaghetti Factory is currently owned by a development firm, so the “pathway to nowhere” at the north edge of the site could become continuous soon, except for the Tesla segment.

Screenshot 2016-05-04 at 2.09.36 PM

And here’s what you currently see when you’re biking northbound on the Willamette River Greenway from South Portland, immediately south of the would-be Tesla property:

Screenshot 2016-05-04 at 2.04.32 PM

This proposal has caught the attention of people who know the area well. One of them, Bob Cronk, posted the image at the top of this post on Facebook Tuesday, with the following message:

Tesla should complete their share of the Willamette Greenway Trail!

Tesla is remodeling a warehouse in South Waterfront. Their plans do not include completing their portion of the river path also known as the Willamette Greenway Trail. If you would like to see this trail completed, email Jeff Mitchem at Land Use Services at jeffrey.mitchem@portlandoregon.gov (case file number LU 16-116605 DZ) by May 20th and let him know you want this gap in the trail completed! Each new project in the neighborhood needs to fill in their portion so we will someday have a continuous trail along the river.

But absent some change in the rules, it doesn’t look as if the city can require Tesla to do this. Amid the various Facebook users expressing support for Cronk’s proposal, Cronk posted a reply he received from Mitchem:

You have all emailed me regarding the Tesla proposal (4330 SW Macadam Ave) and Greenway Trail requirements. First, please accept my apologies for not replying to each of you individually, but I’m sure you understand my need for efficient communication during these very busy times. If the following does not adequately address your concern or you seek information about process, please don’t hesitate to call or reply.

Unfortunately, Staff cannot require the Applicant complete the path segment with this proposal as they are not increasing floor area which is the trigger for compliance with approval criteria related to accessway connections/improvements (see relevant code citation below.) However, I have advised that they do so voluntarily (we’ll see how far that gets us.) As for what Staff can do in this Type II Land Use Review, we are limited to reviewing the scope of work as proposed vis-à-vis the applicable standards and guidelines (33.258 Non-conforming upgrades and 33.510.253 Greenway Overlay, Central City Fundamental and South Waterfront Design Guidelines). Please know that I will do everything in my discretionary review powers to ensure this project meets the applicable approval criteria.

FYI, I’ve attached Stipulated Agreement which is the legal mechanism for allowing the gravel area to remain as accessory parking for Tesla for the term of the lease (including options).

And, here’s a quick summary of the relevant Portland Zoning Code sections:

233.440.240 refers to 33.272 which specifies when trails must be constructed. Section 33.272.030.C states that sites in the South Waterfront subdistrict must comply with the regulations of Section 33.510.253. The regulations of that section specify when recreational trails must be constructed within the South Waterfront subdistrict.

33.510.253.D.3 states: Trail and pedestrian connections and public viewpoints. When development on a site, or alterations to structures, the site, or rights-of-way are made which add more than 50,000 square feet of floor area to the site, the applicant must provide public access easements that will accommodate a trail, pedestrian connections that meet the standards of Paragraph e.5.d., Trail and pedestrian connections; and Paragraph E.5.e., Public viewpoints. The square footage added to the site is calculated based on the total amount added, regardless of the amount demolished;

Thank you.

Jeff Mitchem, AICP, urban design planner

This situation has strong echoes of a story from across the river — as it happens, one of BikePortland’s first big stories, broken 10 years ago last month. The recreational vehicle firm SK Northwest moved to block a link of the Springwater Corridor through their property. That resulted in a years-long legal battle but (as yet) no trail connection.

Unfortunately for Cronk, the code does seem clear in this case: it looks as if the city can’t require Tesla or anyone else affiliated with the site to pay for this short trail segment unless they redevelop it more substantially.

That said, it’s not too hard to imagine that there might be another option here. With this tiny segment of trail in play for what might be the last time in decades, the city or some other agency might scramble to find cash to help build it. And Tesla (which almost certainly hasn’t noticed the context of this trail segment) might actually be interested in having a first-rate trail connection running between its showroom and the river, if someone took the time to approach them.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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