Shumway couple lament loss of ‘forever house’
New owners learn it will be razed as part of crossing project
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Update Wednesday 11 a.m.: Dean Palmer passed away in the couple's home Tuesday night, Brenda Palmer said this morning. The cause of death is unknown at this point.
Dean and Brenda Palmer closed on the sale of their two-bedroom bungalow at East 34th and I streets in November.
Moving from Northeast Portland, the couple said they searched for months for a place they might spend the rest of their lives in before settling on the 1931 house, tucked against a sound wall blocking noise from Interstate 5 below. Two weeks after they began unpacking, they got a letter from the Columbia River Crossing telling them their home, nearly two miles north of the bridge, will be bulldozed as part of interchange improvements.
“This was supposed to be our forever house,” Brenda Palmer said last week, sitting on her couch, as the couple’s terrier, Molly, rested next to her. “We’re in limbo. We had all kinds of plans for it. Now we don’t know how much we can recover.”
Their neighbors on 34 other parcels from East 29th to East 39th streets along I Street are in a similar state of flux — some for more than a decade, since the project was announced. A few, like the Palmers, are certain to lose their homes. Others aren’t sure yet: Columbia River Crossing engineers are still looking at three different options for how that section of highway could be rebuilt. Each comes with its own varying set of possible property acquisitions, meaning that some have no idea if their homes will stay or go.
Either way, neighborhood leaders say the street has suffered as owners unload their properties to unsuspecting buyers and those who stay delay repairs and maintenance.
Right now, CRC planners favor an option that would fully take only seven properties (the Palmers’ included) as they improve the interchanges at Highway 500 and Fourth Plain Boulevard. However, that plan eliminates the direct connection along I-5 between Highway 500 and Fourth Plain, said Casey Liles, the CRC’s highway engineering manager.
Liles said that one of the main goals of planners was to keep the use of eminent domain to a minimum, and that’s partly why they like the no-connector-lane option.
“Our analysis shows that we don’t think the number of vehicles that would use it would be worth the added costs and displacements,” he said.
To keep that existing highway connection — a move favored by the Vancouver City Council in 2009 — I-5 will have to be slightly wider to run a connector lane parallel to it, Liles said. That means more full properties will be claimed.
Crossing representatives are scheduled to meet with the city council on May 9, when they will talk about the impact and costs of the three options, and hear feedback on the council’s preference. The first option calls for the CRC to eliminate the connector lane, which has the fewest property impacts and is the least expensive. (A spokeswoman for the CRC said cost estimates won’t be available until the meeting).
The next two are a Highway 500 to Fourth Plan connector lane with either a “cut-slope” (think long, steep hill) to I-5, or a connector lane with a “tie back” wall (like a sound wall anchored into the hillside). The former is cheaper but takes more property; the latter is more expensive but claims fewer homes. No matter which plan is used, 23 parcels on the west side of I-5, in the Rose Village neighborhood, will also be partially claimed for the work.
None of the options are acceptable to Shumway Neighborhood Association Chairwoman Anne McEnerny-Ogle.
All of them leave too large a dent in low-priced family housing, she said, and the loss will resonate across the entire neighborhood.
“I would want an outside, independent engineering group to come in and look at this stretch,” said McEnerny-Ogle, noting that Portland paid engineers to take a fresh look at the Hayden Island interchange after neighbors decried the large footprint of an interchange there. “Outside eyes can look at this and redesign this mess.”
There’s no question Vancouver doesn’t have the money to fund such a study, but she said if the CRC can spend more than $130 million planning its five miles of highway interchange improvements and bridge design, it can spend more money to replan the Highway 500 interchange, too.
“I don’t have any plans to do that; the CRC doesn’t have any plans to do that,” said Liles, the project’s highway engineer.
The neighborhood association has been left out of the design discussions and also hasn’t been kept in the loop on possible eminent domain, with planners instead just talking to individual property owners, McEnerny-Ogle said.
“We had to find out the hard way,” she said, adding that it’s incumbent upon the city council to direct planners to communicate with the whole neighborhood and not just property owners.
She also listed a number of other concerns, including air quality and environmental impacts, and said she’d like to see the CRC put all its mitigation plans in writing.
The final Environmental Impact Statement for the project, set to be released this summer, will discuss mitigation to impacts on individual property owners, Anne Pressentin, crossing spokeswoman, said.
For the Palmers, whose house is going to go no matter what, there’s just a lingering sense of anger and frustration.
They’re mad no one told them that their particular stretch of I Street has been marked for partial and full property acquisitions by the Columbia River Crossing for more than a decade. They said they believe their real estate agent didn’t know, but they question the motives of the bank that sold them the foreclosed property and the listing agent.
But now that they’re resigned to their fate, Dean and Brenda Palmer just want to know when they’ll have to go. And if they’re going to be able to find a similar home for the deal they got. County records show they spent $84,900 to buy their house; the Palmers said recent real estate searches on similar properties show costs at $120,000 or more. Dean, 48, works in North Portland at Schneider International, a trucking firm, while Brenda, 54, is on disability.
“We’re holding off on doing anything that’s a major property improvement,” Dean Palmer said, noting the home needs a new roof. “The CRC is telling us that it’s coming as soon as this summer.”
The CRC is on an ambitious timeline: The current schedule calls for the release of the final Environmental Impact Statement this summer, which would be followed by a federal Record of Decision by the end of the year. That decision allows the project to move into the final design phase and property acquisitions process, Pressentin said. Right now, even the governors of Washington and Oregon acknowledge that it’s a tight deadline.
“Construction is expected to begin in 2013,” Pressentin wrote in an email message. “Acquisitions and relocations can occur over several years. Funding and sequencing of construction will help determine prioritization of property purchases.”
But Brenda Palmer said she also felt project representatives “danced” around their questions of timing in a meeting this spring.
“Why don’t they just tell us so we can make plans?” she asked. “What if they tell us now that it’s coming soon, and it takes another 10 years?”
Still, Dean Palmer conceded that for them at least, “it’s just a matter of when.”