City says homeless camp is a community service, can move to Pearl

PORTLAND, Ore. - While the city of Portland handed the campers of Right To Dream Too a big victory Friday, businesses around the proposed site for the new camp complained that the process is playing out in secret.

The camp would go right under the Broadway Bridge in the Pearl District and could hold up to 100 campers a night. The site is surrounded by apartments, condos and businesses.

The neighborhood association asked the city for a meeting; instead, they got a letter.

The very reason the homeless camp wants to move from West Burnside is because the city kept fining it. Its current location is a zoning violation.

But in the Pearl, many people wonder how the same camp can suddenly be OK in the proposed location.

In a long letter, the director of the zoning office decided Right To Dream Too is a community service, like a museum, library or soup kitchen, and will be perfectly fine under the Broadway Bridge.

Don't confuse dozens of tents and hundreds of people as a place for group living. That would be a zoning violation, which is not allowed under the bridge.

What's the difference?

KATU News tried to get an answer Friday from the elected official in charge of zoning. That elected official is City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who is the one orchestrating the deal with the homeless camp.

But Fritz's policy director didn't want to answer a KATU reporter's questions and said Fritz wasn't available.

Some of the business owners in the Pearl District sent KATU an email, calling the city's decision illegal. They say the city dreamed up a way to allow the camp before it even read the zoning rules.

KATU submitted a public records request for emails regarding the process pertaining to Right To Dream Too. The city said it will need to charge the TV station $9,000 to find and print out those emails and will be three weeks' worth of work.

Late Friday night, Fritz sent KATU News the following statement:

The rules are similar on each site, even though the present is zoned Commercial and the proposed Employment/Industrial. The property owner refused to apply for permission on the current site. If they had, permission would likely have been granted. In site use matters, the old adage that it's easier to ask forgiveness after than permission before, is not always valid.