Neighborhood replacing rail yard in Oregon

Hoyt development has sold out 5 existing residential buildings


PORTLAND, Ore. - Just blocks from this city's center, a brand-new urban neighborhood is rising from bare ground once covered by Burlington Northern rail yards. The 34-acre Hoyt Street Yards development, still just a promise of what's to come, has sold out all five of its existing residential buildings, which have more than 500 units.

Although much of the new River District, bordered to the north by the Willamette River, is still dirt, those who have bought there see a neighborhood in which the potential is obvious. And already the partially hatched urban district is drawing visitors from other municipalities as a model of private-public cooperation in meeting a city's housing and transportation needs.

In time, Hoyt Street Yards is to be a 20-block neighborhood of about 3,000 homes for citizens of all income ranges. Since July, five brightly painted Czech-made streetcars have stopped on an every-15-minute schedule between the district and downtown. Among the condos and apartments will be restaurants and upscale boutiques. There will be trees and grassy pavilions between buildings and a series of three parks, one of them just steps from the river's edge.

A 19-foot-wide boardwalk will lead to the river, passing a sculpture park and works of art created by prominent artists. The neighborhood's developers, required to provide housing for the working poor, are negotiating with the renowned architect Frank Gehry to design that component.

To help bring this idyllic urban neighborhood to fruition, the developer and the city cut an unusual deal that makes changes in the existing zoning in three steps, increasing density as the city makes specific improvements to the district's infrastructure.

The development contract, signed in 1997, was the result of two years of negotiations between the city and the developer, Hoyt Street Properties.

The zoning at the time had a ceiling of just 14 housing units per acre. The city, however, saw the potential of the district for high-density urban housing that would help reduce suburban sprawl and highway traffic.

City's promise

Portlanders, whose residential options outside city limits are restricted by an urban growth boundary, have taken to urban living like a salmon to water. The city's vibrant core area is widely cited for its livability.

With Hoyt Street Properties' commitment to the desired development, the city made its own promise, to provide approximately $150 million worth of improvements.

"What the city wanted was to get an ironclad commitment that the developer would build high-density, mixed-income housing," said Bruce Allen, development manager for the Portland Development Commission, a city agency created to foster housing and economic goals. "So in order for the developer to be willing to covenant the property so restrictively, the city had to step up to the plate and make some commitments of its own."

When the city removed Lovejoy Ramp, an approach to the Broadway Bridge that bisected the property, the required minimum housing per acre jumped to 87 units from 14.

When the city began construction of the first neighborhood park, the minimum density rose to 109 units per acre. Addition of the streetcar bumped the number up to 131. The agreement is locked in for 50 years.

Close to core

Those involved hope that the entire area will become just as fashionable and hip as its neighbor, the Pearl District. Both districts sit just blocks from the down-town core, and both were rundown industrial areas until art galleries and loft apartments began creeping in about 15 years ago.

Other partners in Hoyt Street Properties, in addition to Sweitzer, are Homer Williams, an Oregon-based developer; Joseph E. Weston, who owns more than 100 apartment buildings in the Portland area; Keith Vernon, also of Portland; and Clay Fowler, founding partner of the Spinnaker Cos., a real estate development concern based in Stamford, Conn.

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