Opposition surfaces to using Terminal 1 for homeless

Commissioner Dan Saltzman will ask the council to use the warehouse as a temporary shelter

Commissioner Dan Saltzman will ask the City Council to use this vacant warehouse as a homeless shelter on Aug. 10. (Portland Tribune, Jonathan House)
Commissioner Dan Saltzman will ask the City Council to use this vacant warehouse as a homeless shelter on Aug. 10. (Portland Tribune, Jonathan House)

PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — Business and property owners near Terminal 1 in Northwest Portland are speaking out against its use as a homeless shelter, even temporarily.

And so is environmentalist Bob Sallinger, who says using Terminal 1 as a permanent shelter will violate policies to preserve existing industrial land the City Council approved just a few weeks ago.

“This is not the appropriate location for a homeless shelter. It is industrial land in an industrial sanctuary,” says Jim Stumpf, president of the Overhead Door Company of Portland and a member of the board of the Northwest Industrial Neighborhood Association, where his business and Terminal 1 are located.

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According to Stumpf, the association board has scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday to approve a letter to the City Council against turning a vacant warehouse at Terminal 1 into a homeless shelter that could hold hundreds of people, as proposed by Commissioner Dan Saltzman.

Although Saltzman will ask the council to use the warehouse as a temporary shelter on Aug. 10, local developers Homer Williams and Dike Dame have been soliciting private funds for a permanent homeless multi-service center at Terminal 1.

That idea is opposed by Sallinger, the conservation director of the Portland Audubon Society, if it becomes permanent. He says the change would violate new policies in the Comprehensive Plan update approved by the council on June 15. They seek to preserve industrial land for industrial uses, especially along the Willamette River, where Terminal 1 is located at 2400 N.W. Front Ave.

Among other things, the policies call for a limit on the conversion of industrial lands for non-industrial purposes, “especially land that can be used by river-dependent and river-elated industrial uses.”

Bureau of Environmental Services property manager Eli Callison helps prepare the bureau-owned warehouse that sits at Terminal 1 for sale, July 2016 (Portland Tribune, Jonathan House)
Bureau of Environmental Services property manager Eli Callison helps prepare the bureau-owned warehouse that sits at Terminal 1 for sale, July 2016 (Portland Tribune, Jonathan House)

Although Salinger is not opposed to the city opening a new homeless shelter, he says, “This is one where it feels like council has not come close to doing its due diligence or fully informing itself or the public about the implications of this decision. It feels like the kind of well-intentioned but very poorly considered decision that so often gets council into trouble and ultimately destroys public trust.”

Sallinger says the Comprehensive Plan update acknowledged the city has a shortage of industrial land, and that converting 14 acres of it to a non-industrial use will allow industrial representatives to demand it be replaced — potentially reopening debate on the conversion of West Hayden Island to a marine terminal, something the council has so far rejected.

“How will the City make up for this lost acreage? Will it cave to industry demands to roll back environmental protections along the river or convert natural areas like West Hayden Island to industrial use?” Sallinger asks.

Saltzman tells the Portland Tribune he is not surprised by the opposition to his proposal, saying the council will take public testimony on it at the Aug. 10 hearing.

“Those are all legitimate perspectives,” says Saltzman.

Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman in his office, Jan. 20, 2016 (KOIN)
Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman in his office, Jan. 20, 2016 (KOIN)

According to Saltzman, he will ask the council to use the warehouse as a homeless shelter for six months, something that can be done under the City Code and extended up to 18 months in six month increments.

Saltzman did not rule out using the warehouse as a homeless shelter permanently if the private sector provides enough support. Williams and Dame had originally estimated the cost of their project at $100 million with half the money coming from the private sector, but have since scaled it back to $60,000. Simply using the warehouse as a shelter would cost much less, however, although no specific figure has yet been released.

“We are going to approach this in phases and see if the private sector can raise the resources necessary to make it successful. If we have to change the zoning, that raises all sorts of rabbit holes we need to go down, including the Comprehensive Plan,” says Saltzman.

Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick have expressed support for the proposal, meaning it will be approved of they and Saltzman vote for it.

Using Terminal 1 as a homeless shelter is opposed by Commissioner Nick Fish, who is in charge of the Bureau of Environmental Service, which owns Terminal 1. The bureau bought it from the Port of Portland to use as a staging ground for the Big Pipe project that reduced combined sewer overflows into the Willamette River. It has since been declared surplus and put up for sale under a process approved by the council. Bids are being accepted through Aug. 15.

Fish says Terminal 1 should be sold as industrial property that will be used to create family-wage jobs. He says the proceeds would help reduce future BES rate increase.

The idea is also opposed by Tom Cody, the founder and president of project, a Portland-based investment and property development company. It is currently constructing two six story office buildings on a 91,540 square foot strip of land sandwiched between Northwest Front Ave and the BNSF railroad tracks at 17th Avenue. It is just seven blocks south of Terminal 1, between it and Old Town, where many homeless service agencies are located.

“Our investment is based on the zoning in the area. It’s not an appropriate site for a homeless shelter. It’s isolated and away from services,” says Cody.

Both Cody and Stumpf say they and others in the neighborhood feel blindsided by Saltzman’s proposal. Although Williams and Dame pitched their idea of a homeless service center to the Northwest Industrial Neighborhood Association a few weeks ago, Stumpf says no one knew it had any support on the council. According to the council, no one from Saltzman’s office or any other city agency has asked the association’s opinion about it.

The debate is occurring shortly before Hales has ordered approximately 500 homeless campers to move out of the Springwater Corridor for health and safety reasons. Hales admits there is not enough available shelter space to accommodate many of them, and predicts most will end up camping in other parts of the city.

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