In a classic David versus Goliath fight, a small, family-owned home-building business is challenging a year-old driveway policy adopted by the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
Valhalla Custom Homes has asked the state Land Conservation and Development Commission to prohibit PBOT from enforcing the policy, which requires that new duplexes be served by only one driveway instead of two.
Mari Ives, general counsel for Valhalla Custom Homes, argues PBOT did not have the legal authority to adopt the policy, in large part because it imposes design requirements on duplexes in addition to those set forth in city building codes.
"We cannot do any work now because all our money is tied up in two properties where we intended to build duplexes with two driveways each, which is what the other codes allow and what people want," Ives says. She is also the wife and mother of the company's co-owners, her husband Gary and their sons Chris and Jonathan.
"My husband is 65 and I'm 64 and we're using our retirement savings to support the company now. I know what we're doing sounds stubborn, but I feel we have an obligation to do it, especially in today's political climate where some government officials believe they are above the law," Ives says.
The City Attorney's Office declined to comment on the challenge, saying the city does not comment on pending litigation.
The Portland Tribune first reported on the dispute between Valhalla and PBOT on May 15. At that time, Ives said the company intended to ask the LCDC to prohibit PBOT from enforcing the policy, but had not yet done so. Since then, the City Attorney's Office sent Valhalla a lengthy letter that Ives says actually supports much of the company's position. After much of that, Gregory Hathaway, an attorney hired by Valhalla, sent the state land use planning agency the request for a hearing by certified mail on Aug. 22.
Under state land use planning laws, the LCDC must decide whether a hearing on the request is justified within 45 days of receiving the letter. If it decides to hold a hearing, the issue must be resolved within 120 days of receiving the letter.
Ives says she is confident the company will win if LCDC grants the hearing.
"If they don't, we'll sell the properties and do business in Clackamas County or somewhere else where the rules are clear," Ives says. "We'll have to work longer than we planned to earn back the retirement money we're spending."
The policy was adopted by PBOT's Development Review Division on May 31, 2017. Until then, builders could choose where to locate the driveways and garages. There could either be two driveways and garages on the outside edges of the structures, or one funnel-shaped driveway leading to two garages in the center.
PBOT says the policy is intended to preserve on-street parking by reducing the number of curb cuts from two to one. The city code allowed PBOT to adopt policies to preserve on-street parking. But Ives says state land use planning laws and rules require clear housing construction policies, a mandate the PBOT policy violates.
You can read the previous Portland Tribune story at tinyurl.com/yar4vbwo.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.