Opposition group tries to derail transit mall plan

Some downtown property owners want to scrap the proposed district or get assessed valuation reduced
Friday, September 17, 2004

A coalition of downtown property owners has launched a last-minute attack against a proposed $24 million local improvement district to help pay for Portland transit mall renovations.

The group, which includes key property owners such as Tom Moyer, Greg Goodman, Barry Menashe and the Louis Dreyfus Property Group, hopes to persuade the City Council to scrap the proposed district or reconfigure it to reduce property assessments.

The $24 million in one-time assessments is part of a $160 million plan to add light-rail tracks and revamp Fifth and Sixth avenues between Portland State University and Union Station.

Opponents are sending notices to about 3,000 property owners in the 370-acre area. The district would include most properties within the downtown freeway loop and the Willamette River.

The opponents need formal objections by Sept. 29 from owners of 60 percent of land within the district to stall it. The City Council will hold a final hearing Oct. 6.

Planners working on the mall project say they have commitments from owners holding more than 50 percent of assessed valuation in the district, which is the standard for creating an improvement district by petition.

But supporters of the district already own 38 percent of the area. That leaves little margin for opponents trying to meet the 60 percent requirement.

"It would take a massive effort for them to get to 60 percent," said Douglas Obletz, project manager for the mall-renovation plan. Obletz said the city has received fewer than 30 objections from 1,200 official notices mailed.

If the opposition group falls short of 60 percent, it hopes to persuade the city to change boundaries and assessment rates. Though the group said it supports mall revitalization, it contends that the rates are flawed.

Local improvement districts are based on the concept that properties abutting or near a proposed improvement will see their property values increase by at least as much as the assessment.

But in a packet sent to property owners, opponents of the assessment district contend that "public transit on the mall is actually a burden on the value of adjacent property rather than a special benefit."

Among drawbacks, the opponents listed noise, congestion, vandalism, panhandling and "other nuisances associated with the public transit system."

Brant Williams, director of the Portland Office of Transportation, called the last-minute attack unfortunate." He said the city received little feedback from the business community during several months while the financing plan was being assembled.

"We worked hard to come up with a plan that we thought was fair and equitable," Williams said.

The $160 million mall renovation is part of a $494 million light-rail project that also would add new tracks in the Interstate-205 corridor between Clackamas Town Center and the Gateway Transit Center.

Fred Lesson: 503-294-5946; fredleeson@news.oregonian.com

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