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Long-term shelter plan for the 'Electric Blocks' meets with resistance from property owners

Property owners tied to real estate developer Killian Pacific filed a complaint Tuesday, asking the court to block the shelter at 120 Southeast Market Street.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Multnomah County's plan to open a year-round women's shelter in Portland's Central Eastside Industrial District received pushback and a legal challenge from property owners in the area on Tuesday, with opponents of the shelter insisting that it would violate the area's industrial zoning.

The building at 120 Southeast Market Street was one of several that served as a temporary warming shelter over the winter, but was identified earlier this month by the Joint Office of Homeless Services as the site of a new 125-bed congregate shelter.

Real estate developer Killian Pacific owns several buildings located near the proposed shelter, with its own main office located in a building on the same block as the Market Street location. The company said that its attorneys sent a letter to county and city officials on Friday, urging them to stop work on the shelter.

Adam Tyler, president of Killian Pacific, said in a statement that his company supports "long-term, sustainable housing options," including a shelter in the Central Eastside. However, he voiced strong opposition to such a shelter at the Market Street location.

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The letter was followed on Tuesday by a complaint filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court requesting declaratory and injunctive relief, naming as defendants the county, the Joint Office of Homeless Services (JOHS) and current building owner Summit Properties, Inc.

Five limited liability corporations are named as plaintiffs in Tuesday's complaint, but all are subsidiaries of Killian Pacific that own property in the "Electric Blocks" — a network of developments surrounding the Market Street building.

"Plaintiffs’ will be irreparably harmed if the 120 SE Market St. shelter site is opened for full-time residential use as a homeless shelter," the complaint reads. "Tenants will leave. New tenants will not come. Development of the Electric Blocks will stop. Plaintiffs’ investment will be lost. And the Electric Blocks will cease to exist."

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The complaint attacks Multnomah County's shelter proposal along several different avenues of approach, but the issue of zoning first and foremost. The area — including the Market Street property — is zoned for general industrial use, and designated by the city as an "Industrial Sanctuary."

"Residential mass shelter development is expressly prohibited in the IG1 zone; no residential variances are allowed by the code," the complaint alleges. "Moreover, defendants have not sought or received any of the necessary land use approvals to convert 120 SE Market St. to zoning that would allow a permanent homeless shelter."

Portland's planning and zoning documents stipulate that both mass and short-term shelters are prohibited in an IG1 zone.

Other sections of the complaint allege a lack of transparency by the county and JOHS, bristle at the county's apparent willingness to pay $8.5 million for a property valued closer to $4.8 million — which would only be the case if the county opted to buy the building instead of leasing — and claim that the building is "unsafe and inadequate" for its proposed use as a shelter.

KGW reached out to JOHS for comment on the shelter and complaint. While officials said that they cannot comment on pending litigation, they said that they are "following all laws" in opening the Market Street shelter as planned on April 1.

JOHS confirmed that this is currently the only one of the former severe weather shelter locations slated for conversion into a year-round shelter.

Earlier this month, JOHS told KGW that it maintained more than 1,600 shelter beds, sleeping pods and motel rooms in the county, an increase from 1,350 shelter beds that were in place before the pandemic.

JOHS was working with shelter providers in the county to gradually lift all capacity limits put into place for COVID-19, a transition that would eventually add another 450 shelter beds.

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