An affordable housing development in the Alphabet Historic District has gone in front of the Historic Landmarks Commission for three Design Advice Request (DAR) hearings, in advance of its land use review application. The project is being designed by Carleton Hart Architecture for nonprofit developer and housing provider Northwest Housing Alternatives. The project will be comprised of two buildings. The north building at NW 18th & Irving is intended to be workforce housing. The south building at NW 18th & Hoyt will incorporate and add to the existing Buck Prager building, and is intended to serve low-income, vulnerable seniors. As part of the development the Buck Prager building will receive a seismic upgrade.
The project site is the western half of the block bound by NW Hoyt St, 18th Ave, Irving St and 17th Ave. The northern portion of the site currently has a small apartment building on it, which was built in 1940. The southern half of the site includes the Buck Prager Building, also known as the Ballou & Wright building, which is a contributing resource in the Alphabet Historic District. The building was built in 1918, as a woman’s hospital. It was subsequently used as an office building. It has been vacant since 2007.
In 2014 developer Gerding Edlen proposed to demolish the Buck Prager Building, in order to build a market rate apartment building. Demolition of the building would have required City Council approval, which was denied after strong neighborhood opposition to the proposal.
An initial Design Advice Request hearing was held on January 8th, 2018. At that time the development would have included 165 units, with 116 units in the north building and 49 units in the south building. No parking was proposed.
As described by the architects in their submission, the design proposed breaking up the massing of the development to read as multiple buildings. The Buck-Prager’s three-story building height set a datum along 18th Avenue, which was maintained along all three street frontages of the property. Where the North Building rose above the 3rd floor it was set back to create a visual break in scale and maintain daylight exposure for the houses to the north.
The north building would have risen to a height of six and a half stories. The addition to the Buck Prager was proposed at four stories. Both new buildings would have been set back along the street from the face of the historic building.
The materials and detailing of both the new North and South buildings was inspired by Art Deco structures found in the Alphabet Historic District, including the Regent Apartments at NW Everett & 20th and the Premier Apartments at NW Flanders and 20th. The primary exterior proposed for both new buildings was brick, with stucco and metal accents.
As outlined in a summary memo the Landmarks Commission “commended the applicant for the refurbishment of the Buck- Prager building, and for looking towards local precedents for material and style cues,” however “noted concerns regarding the scale and massing of the North Building and the character and ground floor treatments of both the North and South Buildings.”
In repsonse to feedback given at the first hearing the project team return in front of the Historic Landmarks Commission for a second hearing on February 26th, with a scheme that reduced the unit count to 149 units. While the size and architectural detailing of the south building remained consistent with what was presented at the first DAR, the north building evolved significantly. One floor was removed from the building, and the set back at the upper levels were removed to create a more unified building. As reconfigured the north building included 101 units and the south building 48 units.
In contrast to the art deco inspired design presented the previous month, the north building was redesigned to draw influence from buildings such as the American Apartment Building at NW Johnson & 21st and the Wickersham Apartments at NW Flanders & 18th. Both proposed buildings were brought closer to the street on NW 18th Ave, so that their primary facades were now flush with the Buck Prager Building.
As noted in the second summary memo the Commission “commended the applicant for their responsiveness to the feedback from the first DAR.” While most of the Commission was comfortable with the massing and height of the south building, the north building continued to be a point of debate, particularly in terms of how it relates to the smaller scale National Register-listed houses across NW Irving St.
Commissioners Kirk and Roman were supportive of the five and a half story massing, noting similar juxtapositions of building scales throughout the district. The three other Commissioner had varying degrees of concern about the north building. Commissioner Minor suggested that the massing would be helped by the introduction of a courtyard facing NW Irving St. Commissioner Chung, who, as reported by the Oregonian, lives across the street, argued that the massing and proportion of the building is incompatible with the nearby landmark structures.
A third design advice request was held on April 23rd. Changes between made since the second hearing were more modest, and included: a change in the brick color at the south building; a revised front elevation on the south building, with the main entrance brought to the center of the addition; and the introduction of a notch in the north facade of the north building facing NW Irving.
As at the first and second design advice hearing, the size of the north building continued to be a major point of discussion. As summarized in a third memo Commissioner Roman remained supportive of the height as presented, while Commissioners Ranzetta and Minor were generally supportive the height if there was a more done to lessen the impact of the massing on NW Irving St. Commissioner Mahoney, Foty and Fuenmayor felt that the “proposed scale and massing is overwhelming in relation to the context, especially the BP and the landmark buildings across NW Irving.” Suggestions made to address this included the removal of a further floor, or a reduction in the floor-to-floor heights.
The development has now been submitted for a Type III Historic Resource Review, and is tentatively scheduled to receive a hearing on August 27th, 2018.
Full disclosure: the author of Next Portland submitted testimony in support of the project in advance of the second and third hearings.