Harney Heights Neighborhood: Divide and conquer?

Residents weigh splitting neighborhood in two to better meet divergent needs, interests

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

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Harney Heights is nearing a breaking point.

The neighborhood, which is bordered by Grand, Mill Plain and Fourth Plain boulevards on the west, south and north, respectively, is home to what many residents admit are two very different groups of people. That leads to a neighborhood association that deals with two very different sets of problems.

The neighborhood is taking a somewhat uncommon route to solve its problem: Residents are considering splitting into two areas that better reflect its inhabitants.

The association is in the middle of a four-meeting process to discuss and vote on the split. If approved, Harney Heights will shrink its borders and the new area will have to form a new association to gain recognition from the city.

The idea isn’t new, former neighborhood chairwoman Cindy Powers said.

The idea of halving the neighborhood first came up about five years ago, she said.

At that point, issues at neighborhood meetings revolved around things that were happening in the “upper half” (south) of the neighborhood, issues from “down below” (north) weren’t discussed much, Powers said.

Those references to up and down are common among neighborhood leaders. The neighborhood is split nearly in two by a bluff.

“The bluff is kind of our natural dividing line,” current chairwoman Joni Whipple said. The eastern boundary, which is not considered for changes, is the Devine Road area and Burnt Bridge Creek area.

Differences

Folks at the top are closer to Mill Plain Boulevard. Folks on the bottom are closer to Fourth Plain Boulevard. There are few roads that connect the two areas.

“Socially and economically, the top and bottom part of the neighborhood, there’s a pretty big gap there,” Powers said.

She thinks the residents might be better served if two associations were formed.

“That would allow everyone to focus on issues that pertain to their immediate area, for example the Fourth Plain revitalization program,” Whipple said.

Whipple’s home is closer to Mill Plain Boulevard. She rarely drives along Fourth Plain Boulevard and says the revitalization isn’t as big of a deal for her as it is for homeowners right along the corridor.

Gang activity at the bottom of the bluff, doesn’t necessarily affect her part of the neighborhood either, she said.

At the top of the hill people are concerned about things including traffic and park vandalism. Things are a little more severe for the bottom of the hill, which had two gang shootings in the past year, said Powers, who lives in the lower half of the neighborhood, near Fourth Plain.

For now, the split is just in the discussion phase. Neighbors in Harney Heights will be able to discuss the idea at the next meeting, which is slated for November and will be held at the King’s Gate Apartments, 3707 E. 18th St., instead of King Elementary School, to make it easier for different residents to attend.

Powers doesn’t feel like she is being rejected from the other part of the neighborhood, she is helping shape the new association.

“Its not like we’re kicking them out, we want to make sure they want to be a separate group,” Whipple said.

She said it is important to have as many residents participate in the discussion as possible.

“My concern is that 10 people that feel strongly show up to the meeting and they control the vote,” Whipple said. “Ten people could determine the fate for all 5,000.”

Moving the meeting will hopefully draw a different crowd and educate more residents of the idea.

Eyeing Central Park

Also in the mix is a small section of the Central Park neighborhood, which is directly west of Harney Heights, that fits in better with the Fourth Plain group than its current neighborhood, said Keith Bellisle, who lives in that part of Central Park.

“Like the Harney Heights neighborhood, this part of the Central Park neighborhood has a parallel culture, so to speak,” he said. “The people are primarily renters, not homeowners.”

Like Harney Heights, Central Park has seen the option coming for quite a while, Bellisle said.

There is high unemployment and high rates of crime, he said. “There needs to be a lot of neighborhood activities that can bring the neighbors together.”

He hopes the new neighborhood can be a model for the rest of the city.

“I think the opportunity it presents is astounding,” he said. “We can’t really fathom the potential of what we’ll be able to do once we get the association rolling.”