Building up the Baysides

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  August 16, 2010

Bayside contains an urban mixed-use zoning district, which allows for a combination of residential units, retail, and restaurants. Lower West Bayside, which sits between two highway exits and is so close to downtown, can support larger-scale commercial businesses. East Bayside is a combination of neighborhood businesses and mixed-income residential units. And Lower East Bayside (the area around Zero Station and World Gym) prohibits most of that — residential and commercial, that is — while being one of the last places in Portland for small-scale, "light" industrial use.

Zoning laws — which dictate how a building can and can't be used — are dull as sawdust but incredibly relevant here.

Take it from Alex Endy, president of the EBNO, who says he's just beginning to understand "how important zoning is in the physical shape and life of a neighborhood. . . . It's really important to preserve the ability of the neighborhood to develop creatively."

This is particularly significant in Lower East Bayside, where artists' studios and small, hands-on businesses like mead-makers and furniture upholsterers are springing up. As they spread throughout the area, there has been debate about whether to loosen zoning regulations in that area in order to accommodate more traditional commercial establishments. (Starbucks on Anderson Street? Gross.)

"That might open the door for development that we're not sure that we want," Endy says. He recommends amending the regulations on a case-by-case basis, which allows for growth "without totally altering the landscape." While that might work in one or two isolated situations, it may not work indefinitely; the very purpose of zoning is to give developers and occupants a consistent idea of character of the neighborhood they'll be in.

"We need to affirm what is working about Lower East Bayside," agrees city councilor Kevin Donoghue, whose district includes this section of Portland. "It will continue to operate as a place where new industrial and arts businesses can incubate without creating conflicts with residential uses."

In the 2009 Muskie study, a survey of about 40 businesses in the area showed that "the most popular reasons for locating in the district included inexpensive rent, availability of industrial-scale space, and proximity to Rt. 295 and Portland." Sixty-six percent of the businesses thought that Bayside Trail will have positive effects in Lower East Bayside, although there are concerns "that the trail will diminish commercial properties by way of its physical construction, and by inviting vandalism and rent inflation."

If the city opts to keep East Bayside's lines clearly delineated between industrial/commercial uses and mixed-use, there are ways to woo different types of developers.

"In the residential layers of [East Bayside] we can continue to promote investment in private property by continuing to invest in public infrastructure. The streets . . . have been neglected for decades and we have begun to turn that around," Donoghue says.

Re-examining and opening up the street grid — breaking up "superblocks" (a bunch of normal-size blocks strung together without streets dividing them) and reconnecting dead-end streets (as with the Chestnut Street extension in Bayside a few years ago) — "also promises to improve mobility and public safety," Donoghue adds. All of which goes to show how community planning builds from this intersection of housing, transportation, public works, and real-estate concerns.

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