Category: Review – Opinion

Design Evolution

Six years ago, the apartments at 7706 & 7718 SE Washington Street went before the Montavilla Neighborhood Association (MNA) for design review. The building designer described the process as challenging and laments some of the changes made to address neighborhood concerns.

There were very few multi-story apartments proposed for Montavilla in 2014. The designer of the project, Kym Nguyen of Concept Design and Associates LLC, recalled a great deal of opposition from the community. “They were strongly against it as I think this was the only [project with] multiple units proposed in that area. They said it would ruin the neighborhood.”

In preparation for the apartment’s design review, the Montavilla Neighborhood Association (MNA) posted the project’s images and descriptions on their Facebook page. Lew Scholl was the Land Use and Transportation Chair for MNA in 2014. In correspondence with Nguyen, Scholl shared some community criticism the project received on Facebook. Comments centered around the roofline and lack of on-site parking.

Much of Facebook criticism echoed through public commentary at the October 2014 MNA meeting. “It was a very interesting meeting process, some very rude [people] and some being cautious [with] what they were saying,” described Nguyen. Lew Scholl did not recall the MNA meeting as being highly critical of the project. “There were no highly controversial issues about what was proposed… Some comments were posted on the MNA Facebook Group about parking that she brought up with the owners, but she was not able (nor required) to provide on-site parking. The development met the city’s zoning code, and no variances were requested.”

The commentary offered at the meeting advanced the project towards a publicly acceptable design. However, not all changes desired by neighboring residents were possible. “The zoning at this site back then is R1, which limited the height, along with the setback and building plan. It was challenging on the design to have parking on-site, so I recommended to have two levels and only two parking [spaces] available at the rear of the site.” Explained Nguyen.

Criticism of the roofline and zoning height restrictions forced Nguyen to choose a more conventional hip roof for the final design. She felt it was an unfortunate compromise. The high peak created by a modern one side shed roof allowed for a vaulted ceiling on the second floor. Taller walls could bring more light into the living space by accommodating larger windows. Nguyen imagined those elements would have enhanced the perceived beauty felt by the occupants. There were also practical advantages to the original roof design. Rainwater management would run along just one side of the roof instead of the entire parameter, creating a cleaner aesthetic and providing easier maintenance.

Ultimately the builder made more compromises towards conventional design. Standard vinyl windows replace unequal split sash windows. The building’s color pallet changed from dark to light, and cladding highlights became muted by material and paint.

Examining past projects like this can be helpful as we enter a new era of density in Montavilla. Changes in zoning during the last six years encourage more multi-story projects in neighborhoods. Now is a good time for the community to consider how multi-family buildings will fit into the area. Apartments by their nature will not look like a classic single-family home. Residents will need to come to terms with that and start to think about what features of large buildings will comfortably fit in the community.

Original design. Concept Design and Associates LLC

Updated design after MNA meeting. Concept Design and Associates LLC

Design update addressing roofline concerns. Concept Design and Associates LLC

Apartments as built

The New Boomtown

In a scene reminiscent of the 1800s boomtown, Montavilla is lining its main streets with roughly constructed wood structures. These Parking Plazas first took the shape of roped-off areas along the street’s edge. A handful of tables were set in the place once used for parked cars, and customers were seated for an open-air experience. This experiment is an effort to offer dining in the era of COVID-19, and it has been successful during the summer months.

Customers came to their favorite bars and restraints, enjoying the novel setting along the street. Soon the ropes became fences, and then canopies appeared over some Parking Plazas. Now we see the addition of substantial structures with roofs—string lights inside zigzag along the ceiling, ready for the coming early-sunset. Montavilla businesses are preparing for a long fall and winter of outdoor dining, as the pandemic lasts longer than expected.

Vintage Cocktail Lounge seating.

The weather has not yet turned cold and rainy, but we will feel the wet chill around us within two months. At that time, there will be a test on outdoor seating’s viability in the Pacific Northwest. Will people brave the cold for the social interactions we gain by going out?

2020 is the year of uncertainty, and the building along our streets is the best attempt to beat uncertainty with preparation. Hopefully, the people of modern Montavilla are as hearty as those who first created these streets two hundred years ago—joining our neighbors for a drink and meal on a cold and damp evening.

Shared Roscoe’s and Miyamoto seating

Redwood’s mid September roof addition.

Making Sure the Last to Reopen, Can

Our Academy Theater has anchored Montavilla Town since its opening in 1948. It closed as a theater in the 1970s and operated as an office. 2006 saw its return to glory as a movie house. Modern issues have threatened the viability of the Academy Theater. Whether it was the conversion from film to digital or a electrical fire, the community has supported it. We all know how valuable it is, not just for the entertainment they provide, but also as an icon of our neighborhood.

So once again we need to show our continued support. Please consider buying a Gift card.

It may feel like Oregon is on the cusp of reopening, but some businesses will have to wait longer than others to serve patrons again. Places of mass gathering will not be opening quickly. Even when opened, people may be scared to go to the movies. Things will get better but if we want to enjoy the future as it was before, we will have to invest in it now.

Needed Return of the Rowhouse

Very few terms in architecture and city planning are met with as much impashioned opinions as the Rowhouse. It has been associated with an image of poverty and bland living. However, attach the name Brownstone to a street of similar shaped houses with shared walls, many have a more positive view. The Rowhouse exists all over the world and in many different iterations. Consequently, the way you feel about them could have more to do with were you grew up and the media you watch.

Row houses offer affordable ownership without a HOA fee and offer more expressive freedom to residents than a condo. It is attractive to first time home buyers and people who could never afford the prices of a detached home. These positives have been countered by negative economic changes for the areas where these houses were built. Clusters of lower cost properties, over time, will turn neighborhoods into a blight on the city. This can happen to any centralized location of affordability. When a neighborhood only has one class of housing, residents must move away as soon as they can afford a better home. When a flow of financially stable people move out of an area, that drives down the property value for the people who remain. A few cycles of that migration will devastate the value of an area.

The biggest failing of the classic Rowhouse in america, has been its location in a sea of identical buildings. As a solution for density they can be a great solution, as long as architecturally and socially they meet a high standard. Dim, skinny houses, made from inferior material is bad building regardless of if it’s in a row or detached. If a substantial width is preserved, greater that 18 feet, a house will feel comfortable.

The properties pictured above are not row houses, but instead are classified as Townhouse condos. 603 NE 92nd Ave is owned by ADS Properties LLC. All five residences share the same lot, although they have different street numbers. Many people think of Townhouse as a nice term for a Rowhouse and there is endless debate on if that is true. The one thing stopping anyone from calling these row houses or Townhouses, is the lack of distinct parcels of land with independent ownership.

Despite its distinction from being a Rowhouse development, the scale of this project is perhaps the ideal length for row houses. Although this is a large block of housing, it occupies less than a quarter block. Most other residences around it are detached single family homes, making it more acceptable to the community standard. Row Houses can cost less but do not have to be cheap. With a mixed block approach to row houses, if the residents want to upgrade their homes, they can find options in the same area.

Infill houses are trying to squeeze into spaces that make them awkward and ugly. This is all in the name of maintaining a slim yard between houses. That land between two houses is often wasted and could have been used to add an additional five feet to the width of the house. Housing density is a good thing when balanced with other housing. We should be inspired by solutions in between an apartment and a detached house. Good city planning is based on selectively saying yes to different housing ideas, not maintaining uniformity in neighborhoods.

Additional Reading on Row Houses – American Planning Association offers a detailed look into the Rowhouse, past and present. The Urban Omnibus, a publications of The Architectural League of New York, also provides a social and historical look at the Rowhouse.

Empty But Not Gone

One of the two Family Fun RV locations along SE 82nd Ave, is noticeably devoid of any RVs. They have consolidated their inventory of new and used RVs to the 333 SE 82nd Ave location. All branding and signage remains up, however the lot looks empty.

When reached for comment, a representative from Family Fun RV said the 1027 SE 82nd Ave location is still in use as a service location. He further explained that due to the current social distancing in effect, they have decided to keep only one location open to shoppers.

It is Family Fun RV’s intention to reopen the 1027 SE 82nd Ave location for sales, and balance the inventory between both locations. However this is dependant on when restrictions are lifted.

Effect of Staying Home on Where We Go-out

It has almost been a month of empty streets and closed shops. Even if you are safe and secure during this time, you are looking around at the businesses in the neighborhood and hoping they will survive. There are some programs to help these small businesses but not enough, and certainly they are not timely in providing the help needed. Those programs are for established businesses trying to make it through the forced closures. However, they do not cover establishments that have not opened their doors for the first time. We have many businesses in Montavilla that are mid construction.

The Oregonian has an article detailing the struggle of four restaurants and bars that had all been scheduled to open in Montavilla town. In the article, the owners of White Rabbit, Tinker Tavern, Lazy Susan, and Sebastiano’s all lend their voice to the story of uncertainty around us. No business in Montavilla is immune to the financial hardships being felt right now but the ones that have yet to see their first customer, are proving to be the most vulnerable.

All is not lost for these future landmarks of Montavilla. Some should be able to postpone plans. Others are adjusting the business to fit what is practical right now. Andrew Mace, of Lazy Susan, is quoted in The Oregonian article as being thankful they did not hire staff yet.

Unlike other shops with staff, payroll and unemployment is one burden the new locations in Montavilla are not contending with. There are many established businesses in our area that need cash flow to keep some of their staff employed.

Brian Stafki put together a Google Sheet of Montavilla, and other nearby businesses, that are open or offering services in an alternative form. If you can continue to give them business, please do.

The Montavilla East Tabor Business Association has created a COVID-19 Info and Resources page that has some additional information about its members, during this prolonged shutdown.

Erica’s Soul Food Review

Tucked in the back of a micro shopping complex on SE 82nd Ave, is a new Montavilla dining destination. Erica’s Soul Food opened at the beginning of 2020 and it can be easy to miss if you are not looking for it. It is located in a food cart attached to the back half of the Henry’s Market building at 803 SE 82nd Ave, adjacent to Growler’s Taproom. Growler’s Taproom shares a covered patio with Erica’s Soul Food, offering a good mix of drink and food options at one table.

My wife and I are a difficult pair to accommodate at restaurants. I eat Vegan and my wife eats everything but does not like Vegan only food. Fortunately Erica’s Soul Food offers a wide range of sides that are all Vegan. They were able to make an impressive plate of sides into a filling meal.

The food is an appropriate amount of spicy for soul food. Hot sauce is not needed, the heat is cooked in. All the flavors were surprising and vibrant, while being true to the dishes origin. The Vegan Mac & Cheese turned the plate of sides into a full meal and begged to be completely devoured.

My wife spent a decade of her formative years in the South. So she was excited to find a soul food spot so close to home and not over priced. She too found it spicy and good. Although she would not call it southern soul food, it is definitely a good spot. She lamented the lack of Fried Green Tomatoes on the menu but there is plenty of other dishes to try and I suspect my wife will work her way through them all.

We both will be returning soon, friends in tow. Erica’s Soul Food has a strong Instagram presence and orders can be delivered by GrubHub. Best of all, it is walking distance for many in Montavilla. I highly recommend you give them a visit.

Maryah Loeb at Ericas
Photo shows Maryah Loeb excitedly noting Vegan options.