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TriMet board member says she knowingly violated city code with Pearl parking lot

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sweitzerThe senior member of TriMet’s board said Wednesday that she knew her development company wasn’t allowed to pave a Pearl District parking lot when tenants started asking about it in 2008.

But the prominent Portland developer said she did it anyway, because she disagrees with the city’s ban on adding surface auto parking downtown. Her company charged $100 a month per space in the illegal 112-space lot for three years.

"I think it’s a goofy code," said Tiffany Sweitzer, president of Hoyt Street Properties. "I think it needs to be changed."

Sweitzer’s firm was a primary landowner of the future Pearl District and helped engineer the walkable, transit-friendly neighborhood with the help of major investment by city taxpayers. She’s served on TriMet’s volunteer board of directors since 2004.

Despite a 2008 complaint, The Portland Tribune first reported in November, the city chose not to enforce its code. So Hoyt’s lot at Northwest 10th and Overton remained in place for three years. In December, a city hearings examiner estimated its potential revenue at $11,000 per month, and the Tribune said it "may have netted more than $100,000" for Hoyt.

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Sweitzer said Wednesday that the lot was "not a huge revenue maker" for her company, which describes itself as "Portland’s largest developer." She said she’s not sure if the lot is profitable any more, because of its original development costs and several thousand dollars in fines the city began issuing last summer.

Central city parking has been serious business since Mayor Neil Goldschmidt‘s council capped downtown auto spaces in 1975. It was part of the string of planning reforms and air-quality measures that also included the transit mall, Fareless Square, Pioneer Courthouse Square and Tom McCall Waterfront Park. The cap on new spaces was lifted in 1997; the ban on new permanent surface parking remains.

Sweitzer called the dispute irrelevant to her work overseeing local transit. "I don’t think it has anything to do with TriMet," she said.

Sweitzer said it doesn’t make sense for the city to allow short-term parking on a gravel lot while forbidding a more permanent paved lot. Nevertheless, she said the lot has now been closed to traffic by removing lifters her company had once set up to let cars enter.

She noted that her company had also added a community garden to the property and provided short-term parking for free to some who asked for it. Not all of the nearby businesses and residents the lot serves are her company’s tenants, she said.

"I’m providing a great service to the neighborhood," Sweitzer said.

According to the Tribune, the city issued a $5,500 civil penalty for the three-year violation and began requiring Hoyt Street Properties to pay $1,475 a month for city inspections.

Hat tip to Al Margulies, whose blog picked up the Tribune story in December.

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