Yesterday, the Portland City Council amended the SE 89th Ave and Taylor St Local Improvement District (LID) proposal, removing all but one private residence and significantly reducing the scope of infrastructure upgrades. The original LID included the construction of new curbs and sidewalks on both sides of SE 89th Avenue adjacent to Berrydale Park. The LID would have also added sidewalks on the south side of SE Taylor Street from 92nd Avenue to 98th Avenue. The amendments refocussed the LID on pedestrian improvements around the Park’s boundary, including just one home that sits between Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) owned lots.
Portland’s Local Improvement District Administrator, Andrew Aebi, recommended this change based on feedback from the homeowners initially included in the LID. Aebi explained that most potential LID members he communicated with opposed the $24,000 LID contribution. Local Improvement Districts form when a majority of property owners in an area elect to pool private funds with the City of Portland, sharing the new infrastructure expense. In early versions of the SE 89th Ave and Taylor St LID, several City bureaus covered an outsized portion of construction cost compared to private property owners. However, even the subsidized infrastructure investment exceeded what some affected homeowners felt they could afford.
When the project first appeared at Portland City Council on October 12th, neighbors had already mobilized a combined opposition to the LID. Those efforts continued over the next month, with residents contacting Aebi and media outlets. The ordinance returned to the Mayor and City Commissioners on December 7th with proposed amendments that all but unraveled the LID but gained the support of the original LID participants. City Council approved the amendments and will hold the final vote on December 14th after a second reading.
The original scope of the proposal will remain with the ordinance. The now-approved amendments remove participant obligations and reduce planned work. Aebi recommended this approach to save time and retain a record of the process. Scrapping the LID would force PP&R back to the public works permitting process, delaying Berrydale Park’s renovation planned for Spring 2024. City staff also felt it important that future home buyers know an attempt to provide sidewalk infrastructure occurred. The houses that would have participated in the LID will have a $0 obligation recorded against the property referencing this LID, but they will not receive any upgrades. The lone participating private residence at 9020 SE Taylor Street will gain a sidewalk, and the owners are obligated to contribute $23,959.55 to the project’s cost.
As amended, the SE 89th Ave and Taylor St LID will repave a portion of SE 89th Avenue and provide a disconnected sidewalk along the Park’s edge. However, it fails to create any measurable improvement to this area’s poor pedestrian infrastructure. Residents using SE 89th Avenue in anything other than a car face significant challenges. Pedestrians using SE Taylor Street will continue crossing over to the north side of the street for sidewalk access. Without the improvements to the northwest corner of the Park’s block, people requiring a walkway will need to travel through Berrydale Park on the new paths created during the Park’s renovations.
According to Andrew Aebi, opposition to the LID was based on costs alone. In his presentation to City Council, he explained that most remonstrances mentioned support for curbs and sidewalks, but not at the proposed price. That observation highlights the problem with infrastructure improvement models that require private funding. Lower-priced houses without sidewalks or paved streets sometimes attract buyers without extra income for upgrades. That creates streets of people who opt out of LIDs due to budgetary constraints. The City Council members and Aebi understood the financial burden this LID placed on these homeowners. The introduction and adoption of the amendments reflect that understanding. However, for non-participate supporters of the LID, this change denies them access to sidewalks, and they are left wondering how improvements will ever occur on their street.
There is no current solution to Portland’s sidewalk funding shortfall. New home builders must construct sidewalks with their projects or pay a Local Transportation Infrastructure Charge (LTIC). Property owners must pay to keep their sidewalks in good repair and accessible for people of all mobility needs. Eventually, homeowners on unimproved streets or places that lack sidewalks will have to pay for the creation of those street amenities. The timing of that is uncertain as City officials and citizens struggle with when to demand property owners pay for that infrastructure. For now, City leaders have passed that decision on to the next generation of homeowners.
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