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PORTLAND-The city’s urban renewal agency and its planning commission are at odds over what the maximum building height should be for 2.5 acres of vacant riverfront north of the Marquam Bridge that is slated for a $72-million hotel and condo development.

The Portland Development Commission owns the land but has a $3.6-million disposition and development agreement that involves developers Homer Williams, John Carroll and Gordon Sondland. The PDC is seeking an increase in the maximum building height to 200 feet from between 125 feet and 150 feet.

The PDC and the developers argue that the increase in maximum height would result in taller, thinner buildings that wouldn’t block views and would allow for more open space and, therefore, better public access to the waterfront. As well, the urban renewal project would generate tax increment revenue that could be used to pay for infrastructure improvements and encourage more redevelopment of the heretofore industrial riverfront.

The planning commission, however, prefers its existing step-down-to-the-river zoning, and is recommending the city council reject the proposal. Other concerns expressed by commission members and citizen opponents of the idea–many of whom live in condos that would be able to see the buildings instead of the river–are that it would set a precedent for other tall buildings that could block existing views and create a canyon-like experience from the river.

Homer Williams tells GlobeSt.com that he will build to whatever height is decided upon, but from an aesthetic standpoint would prefer the taller, more slender buildings. “It’s really a council decision,” he says. “We could do two buildings and just use 150 feet of height, but that means our floor plates are 40,000 sf instead of 20,000 sf,” which is one-half acre that would be a building instead of a park.

Larry Brown, the development manager for the PDC, tells GlobeSt.com the issue will likely make its way to the City Council in October.

Williams and Sondland brought Carroll into the joint venture in April of this year, around the same time they delayed the 110-room Inter-Continental Hotel because of current market conditions and begun gearing up to develop the 170-unit condo development.

According to the DDA with the PDC, by the end of November Williams is to pay $3.6 million for the property and then flip the hotel parcel to Sondland for $1.83 million. The agreement also calls for the PDC to purchase back the parking component of the project for $1.5 million one-year after the condominiums are complete if the hotel development does not proceed by that time.

The low purchase price for the property comes with strings attached: if the condos cost less than $54.35 million to develop, the PDC gets half of any savings. Also, if condominium sales revenue exceeds $64.14 million, the city gets half of that excess sum as well. As for the hotel, the PDC gets half of the estimated $250,000 “opportunity fee” that likely will be paid to Williams by Sondland.

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