Grand park entrance now mostly a parking lot
Updated: Apr 21, 2020
Ambitious plans for a new entrance to Forest Park along Northwest St. Helens Road were quietly shelved by Portland Parks & Recreation in late January.
Two years after applying for land-use approval to create a nature center, boardwalk and trail network, the bureau submitted a stripped-down alternative that will look like little more than a parking lot.
A 30-space lot will connect to a trailhead. There will also be a stormwater treatment system and widening Fire Lane 1 but nothing resembling the 2018 plan.
While the original scheme was derived through months of public workshops, surveys, citizen engagement and design work, the downscaled version was revealed in a narrowly distributed Bureau of Development Services notice written March 13, with an April 3 deadline for public comment.
“Thanks for sharing this information with us. We had no idea,” Catherine Thompson told the NW Examiner after seeing the document on March 30. Thompson organized opposition to the earlier project, which she considered excessive and wasteful of parks resources, so usual protocol should have called for notifying her directly as a person of interest.
Mark Sieber, director of Neighbors West/Northwest, the coalition serving inner Westside neighborhood associations, said the Forest Park Neighborhood Association was the only one notified by the city.
If Portland Parks & Recreation hoped to skirt controversy by scaling back a controversial project, it stumbled into some fresh concerns.
State Rep. Mitch Greenlick championed a state grant of $1.5 million to underwrite development of a plan for the entrance. The money went into consulting fees and public outreach efforts—all with the assumption of something grander than a parking lot.
“I was particularly concerned about what happened to the state investment in this,” Greenlick told the Examiner.
Greenlick learned of the city’s change of direction only because it triggered an environmental review.
Stacey Castleberry of the Bureau of Development Services concluded that the project failed to meet several environmental standards and should go through an additional review process.
“The Forest Park Trailhead plans depict approximately 35,720 square feet of disturbance area and removal of 49 trees,” Castleberry wrote.
“Construction activities will occur closer to wetland areas and creeks than allowed by standard, and more than 225 diameter-inches of trees will be removed.
“Environmental development standards 33.430.140 A, C and J are not met by the proposal. Therefore, the work must be approved through an Environmental Review. The site is also within the Forest Park Subdistrict of the Northwest Hills Plan District and must meet the additional approval criteria for that subdistrict.”
Citizens wishing to weigh in on the loss of trees or disruption of wetlands have until Friday, April 3, the day before this edition of the Examiner is distributed to most of its readers. Comments may be submitted to Stacey.Castleberry@portlandoregon.gov.
Carol Chesarek, a Forest Park Neighborhood Association board member and former member of the PP&R Budget Advisory Committee, does not think the scaled-back plan is the last word on the matter.
“The city is not giving up on the entrance facility forever,” Chesarek wrote the Examiner, “but since they can’t afford to operate the new center in the current budget situation, they are dropping the building from the application to make the application for the parking lot and trails easier to complete.
“More work and investment would be required to complete an application that included the buildings: no reason to make that investment at this time.”
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