Thursday, July 19, 2007

Two examples of planners folly in one day!

I haven't been blogging a lot lately, but two articles in the Oregonian today were just too rich to let pass without comment.

Two different articles, both of which illustrate the folly of our vaunted land use planners when they cook up grand schemes for how they think people want to work, shop and live, and then act shocked when it turns out that people vote with their feet otherwise.

And when it happens, does it cause them to re-think their views? Not a chance.

The first one is the opening of IKEA in the Cascade Station "development." IKEA is a complete and total departure from what the Cascade Station area was supposed to be. Planners' vision was their typical New Urbanism fantasy: "The idea was, let's build an urban village next to the airport in an industrial core," said Craig Sweitzer, whose job it was to market the ill-considered development.

Just think about this - how detached from reality do you have to be to even utter those words? An urban village next to an airport? In an industrial core? Who would want that?

But the obviousness of how stupid an idea this was didn't prevent Neil Goldschmidt and his cronies from making millions on it. The money trail is very murky - Bechtel and Trammell Crow helped build the light rail spur to the airport in exchange for the development rights to the property. Who knows what those rights were worth, and how much they actually ended up paying for them? Anybody want to bet with me that the public got screwed again?

Anyway, the development fell apart from the get go. They platted the whole thing out, had all the roads and infrastructure built, the train going through it, and for several years there wasn't a SINGLE commercial establishment in the entire place!

It was actually pretty funny, because the choo-choo train to the airport, occupied mostly with airport employees, would chug through the development, and would stop. "Cascade Station," the loudspeaker would announce, and the doors would open to reveal a deserted sidewalk. Nobody would get in or out, of course. (Except once I hear a coyote boarded.)

The problem was the planners' vision did not include cars. They don't like cars. So they wanted all the commercial tenants to discourage car-driving customers. But commercial enterprises know better, and so they stayed away from Cascade Station in droves.

And the planners had to yeild. It was more embarrassing to have the thing vacant than to allow a car-oriented store like IKEA to come in and bail them out. So IKEA opens today.

I love the quotes in the newspaper:

"Planners and officials now agree that the Cascade Station vision was doomed from the start." Oh! Oops! Sorry, we were wrong.

Randy Leonard said: It didn't work out the way it was planned, but when government sets up a plan for an area, the lesson is, you need to remain flexible so the economics of what you are planning for makes sense." THAT is your takeaway from this, Randy? Remain flexible, so you after five years of bleeding money you can admit you were wrong and the whole thing made no sense in the first place? I think the lesson is to make sure that what you are investing public resources in makes sense in the first place!

And this, from one of the guys who planned the whole concept: "Sometimes reality has a different idea." WOW!

But the money quote from a Tri-Met planner, explains the whole disaster:

"Bottom line for Tri-Met: We got our train."

Exactly. That is all it was about. They lied and bribed their way to get another piece of their choo choo system built. That really is all that matters to them. Everything else is just for show.

Now, the other article is just as funny, but for the opposite reason. With Cascade Station, they invested in the New Urban vision and the market rejected it. The planners don't seem to be bothered at all.

But 10 miles south, another retail center was built that rejected every single principle of the New Urban vision, and it is wildly successful. Bridgeport Village is everything planners hate. Auto oriented, retail only (not mixed use) and proudly upscale.

It is so successful, in fact, that the planners want to now get involved. They are talking about designating Bridgeport Village a "Regional Center," which in their fantasy are the clusters of high density mixed use areas surround the Portland urban core.

The problem is Bridgeport rejects the Regional Center model, which is to combine housing, office and retail so that people don't have to use their cars. And that makes the New Urbanists mad.

Lake Oswego mayor Judie Hammerstad is one of them. She hates Bridgeport, because she spearheaded one of the mixed use developments in downtown Lake Oswego, about three miles from Bridgeport. And a lot of the office space in the Lake Oswego development is still vacant, and the retail establishments other than the restaurants are struggling.

"My original objection to Bridgeport Village was that it contained no housing and almost no office space," she said. I still feel that way."

In other words: "They didn't make the same stupid mistake we did and burden their project with a bunch of square footage that doesn't fit the development. That means I am stupid, and I hate it when my stupidity is so clearly on display."

So the planners - get this - want to designate Bridgeport Village a Regional Center, because then it would have access to all sorts of governement transportation funds so it could turn itself into something as successful as Cascade Station!

These people sure are good at keeping Portland wierd.


Anonymous said...

These people need to be taken out and shot.

Anonymous said...

Last time I rode out to the Airport, the train stop at Cascade Station, announced "Cascade Station," but the doors didn't open.

Anonymous said...

Another Metro "center" soon to fall flat, even after commuter rail. But that didn't stop the Commuter rail campaign from repeatedy claiming it would serve Washington Square. (among other whoppers)
I can here TriMet already,,, "but we got our commuter rail".

City isn't in a big rush to develop mall area
Washington Square - Officials want to focus on downtown and also retain industrial land
Thursday, July 19, 2007
The Oregonian Staff
BEAVERTON -- Condominiums and eight-story office buildings someday might rise in an urban village on the west side of Oregon 217, connected to Washington Square by an overpass across the highway.
Or they might not.
Beaverton officials are in no hurry to kick-start the area's development, despite a request from Tigard leaders. They are lukewarm for several reasons, which include wanting the industrial land more than housing, and concern that putting money and energy into the Washington Square area could detract from the city's top priority of redeveloping downtown.

Beaverton's leaders might take a further step back from transforming the mall area by asking Metro to remove the city's portion from the regional center.
Since 1995, Metro, the Portland area's regional government, has identified the area around Washington Square as a regional center designed to absorb new residents and workers in densely developed neighborhoods. In 2002, the city decided what part of Beaverton would be included: roughly between Southwest Denney Road and Scholls Ferry roads.
Beaverton consistently has lagged behind Tigard in the area's planning. Beaverton has never rezoned its land from general commercial and campus industrial, zones that allow only one-story buildings.
One reason is the city has never been able to find the money to make improvements that might entice new development. That includes an estimated $30 million to build an overpass spanning 217 between Hall Boulevard and Scholls Ferry Road.
The state doesn't have the money to expand 217, which would be necessary if the land were densely developed. Nor has the real estate market shown interest in higher densities.
It all points toward a cautious approach, Beaverton Mayor Rob Drake said.
"I think we shouldn't be taking too big a bite in the short run," he told the City Council last week.

With little industrial land in the city, officials are worried about converting some of that precious employment area into more housing. Some councilors worry that planning and paying for infrastructure, such as roads, near Washington Square would detract from its efforts downtown.
The council heard a presentation last week of an August 2004 consultant's report that made that point. The city hired David Evans and Associates to determine the feasibility of a more urban neighborhood near Washington Square.
Beaverton shelved the report for nearly three years because staff became busy with the city's controversial annexation policy, said Hal Bergsma, Beaverton's planning services manager. In addition, there was uncertainty about commuter rail and where a station would be built.

The study recommended that Beaverton consider asking Metro to abandon the regional center concept because it would take a lot of public investment and detract from the city's efforts downtown. Still, the consultant recommended the city change the zoning on the west side of 217 to allow higher densities and housing so private property owners have incentive to redevelop.
The city's Planning Commission appeared to favor that approach, but the council didn't want to rezone the land.
Last month, Ron Bunch, Tigard's planning manager, wrote to Beaverton officials asking them to take steps toward making the regional center a reality.
Tom Coffee, Tigard's community development director, said last week that it would be good to take advantage of commuter rail, scheduled to open from Beaverton to Wilsonville next year, and the energy of Washington Square.
But he downplayed any conflict between the two cities and said development of the area wasn't a major issue for Tigard. Like Beaverton, Tigard's focus is on its downtown.
"Obviously, we have our priorities," Coffee said. "We have our downtown and you have yours, and there are other things to think about."
David R. Anderson: 503-294-5199; davidanderson