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Density demands different design for North Portland

Daily Journal of Commerce

Portland Design Commission encouraged architects of pioneering project to design for future landscape

February 1st 2008

In-the-works zoning changes could bulk up building along the North Interstate Avenue light rail corridor. The shifts could mean bigger projects, more people - and different design responses for the largely single-family area.

The Interstate Avenue project is taking a look at changing zoning as a way to encourage development that fits with ideas of transit-oriented, higher density projects. Changes are expected to be before City Council by early summer.

The Portland Design Commission last week saw early designs for one of the first efforts at upping density. The site, a six-parcel plot on North Montana Avenue, is proposed as the home of three buildings and 153 residential units. Building height steps up along the site, with a four-story building planned at the south end of the property, a five-story building at the midpoint and eight stories at the north end.

"The idea is to give as much respect as you can to the existing infrastructure and housing," said Myhre Group Architects' Joshua Stein.

Adding density in neighborhoods other than the Pearl and South Waterfront Districts, commissioners said, is important. With the changes ahead for North Interstate, they said, designers may consider reacting to what's coming rather than what's there.

"I wouldn't let those two little houses drive this whole block," Commissioner Jeff Stuhr said in asking the design team to consider going tall with all three of the buildings.

The design, the Myhre Group project team said, relies on distinctions like different rooflines and massing to avoid creation of three identical buildings.

"We battled a lot trying to make this feel like it wasn't all built at once, but still had some cohesive hold," Myhre Group's Brian Laramee said.

The commission had previously approved a five-story building on part of the site, during a hearing spurred by the neighborhood association's appeal of staff approval for the project. The neighborhood, the design team said, is on board with the current three-building proposal.

Expansion of the proposal to three buildings on six parcels, commissioners said, is a boon.

"We all knew something better could happen," Commissioner Andrew Jansky said. "And it looks like it will."