The verdict is in for the long vacant superblock at Belmont and 10th, as approval from the city was finally achieved this month and construction permits have been filed. The lot acquired local fame by using goats to trim its grass, but is now destined to forever change the Central Eastside. SE 11th and 12th Avenues form a couplet that make the de facto border for residential and industrial separation, and now that line has been strengthened by projects like the Goat Blocks and nearby Washington High School forming a commercial corridor along the North-South axis. The project will also add to the revitalized East-West corridor along Belmont and Morrison, another couplet that has seen a lot of new energy in the last decade.
The project will bring 257 much-needed apartments to the predominantly single-family neighborhood without tearing down any streetcar-suburb homes, and will also add a new grocery store to an area devoid of options. The superblock will be split by a small pedestrian street, to be known as “Yamhill Alley,” an 11th Avenue-level block of retail shops with a grand sitting staircase leading down to 10th.
The project has come a long way from its original inception. The biggest changes coming from external material choices and pedestrian circulation improvements. The facades of the multi-block project were originally proposed as a hodgepodge of metal panels, brick, concrete and steel. The approved version has been simplified and reworked into a visually cohesive grouping of individualized buildings. The ground floor pedestrian realm has been rethought to include more visually interesting tactile detailing and now incorporates some modern placemaking tools which give the Brewery Blocks-sized development a more welcoming presence.
The increased density of this project has not come without controversy, as nearby residents and industrial operators are both weary of commercial encroachment. The design team has acknowledged these concerns as best as they could; pulling the pedestrian activity away from the industrial side, and stepping down the apartments to the Buckman neighborhood. Obviously none of the proposed buildings are great works of architecture, but I welcome the design nonetheless. There is a clear need for the programmed elements in this rapidly growing part of Portland, and the final design of those elements have been thoroughly explored within an assumed, tightly-controlled budget. If properly executed, the Goat Blocks could tie the Eastside together, in the same manner as the Brewery Blocks did to the Burnside divided West End and Pearl.