A proposed Lents recycling center draws concerns from neighbors

Some Lents neighbors are concerned about a new container recycling center planned at 4616 SE 82nd Ave, calling it an unwelcome industrial facility in a residential area, and another example of how East Portland is treated unfairly by the City of Portland and political favors trump process.

Officials at Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, who are planning the site, haven’t been cooperative with neighbors about their plan for security, to control noise, and manage vehicle traffic at the site on 82nd near Holgate Blvd, said Jennifer Young, a Lents neighborhood advocate who lives in the area.

Since Fred Meyer at SE 82nd and Foster Rd closed at the beginning of 2018, much of the container redemption activity has moved to the Wal-Mart in the Eastport Plaza Shopping Center, she said.

After tracking 911 calls lately, Young said about half the 911 in Lents are about the Wal-Mart— and that doesn’t include non-emergency calls. Both Wal-Mart and mall management have been helpful in addressing the jump in criminal activity by stepping up security, but Young said that based on how the process has been handled so far, she is concerned bottle drop management won’t be as vigilant when it opens.

“We think it’s going to be a disaster,” Young said.

***

The Holgate location should have about 10 reverse vending machines, said Joel Schoening, OBRC community relations manager, and a drop door that pre-registered users can use when the site isn’t open.

The hours on the Oregon Liquor Control Commission permit, which was approved two week ago, say the site will be open from 9 am to 6 pm or 7 pm (depending on the season).

The BottleDrop loction is planned to open this fall.

According to the OLCC permit application, the Holgate center would relieve all retailers within a mile of any duty to redeem containers (Zone 1); and retailers within two miles would only have to redeem up to 24 containers per person (Zone 2):

ZONE 1
Bi-Mart #653, 4315 SE Woodstock Blvd
Winco Foods #132, 7979 SE Powell Blvd
Walmart Supercenter #2552, 4200 SE 82nd Ave
Safeway #382, 3527 SE 122nd Ave
Safeway #1523, 4515 SE Woodstock Blvd
Walgreens #4353, 4325 SE 82nd Ave
ZONE 2
Safeway #1627, 3930 SE Powell Blvd
Trader Joe’s #143, 4715 SE Cesar E Chavez Blvd
Walgreens #4296, 3909 SE Holgate Blvd
Walgreens #4943, 12215 SE Powell Blvd

***

The OBRC has held the lease at the Holgate location for months, and Young said they haven’t done a good job keeping its property free of trash and debris. It’s often a site for illegal camping too, she added. Portland Maps says there’s an outstanding warrant (issued 5/21/18) against the property which, according to BDS website, means “the property is being billed monthly for violations OR a warrant is being requested for full or partial abatement”.

Young said she recently visited Wal-Mart with Schoening, and she said he seemed surprised by the crowds and open drug use nearby the site.

Screenshot 2018-06-07 at 1.39.34 PM

As you can see in the image above, the location backs up to houses. The vehicles lines up south of the building were part of an un-permitted trailer park run.  It was eventually shut down by the City, but Young said the property has been a long-term problem for the neighborhood.

***

Speaking about potential concerns with the property, Schoening wrote in an email:

“We’ve had some ongoing conversations with neighbors, property owners, and other public agencies with the intent of creating a coordinated effort to reduce the kinds of problems that have been experienced with bottle returns at Fred Meyer and Walmart. The specifics are yet to be worked out, and we intend to work with these same groups to determine the best options.”

He added later that a BottleDrop in SE Portland is needed where the density of retailers are. OBRC is planning more smaller recycling locations in the area, called BottleDrop Express (like this one off Hawthorne Blvd) in the future, he said.

He wrote: “The state of Oregon has asked that we build out to 40 of these Redemption Centers (there are currently 23) to provide access to our high volume areas.”

OBRC’s 2018 first quarter report here. It’s light on details, but it’s interesting to know that the total redemption rate in Oregon (after the container deposited doubled in 2017) is 82%, and the total weight of all containers processed this quarter equals 219 grey whales.

The statewide numbers for beverage retailers compared to bottle return options are below. The Glisan site (12403 NE Glisan St) was the number one BottleDrop site by volume, the report said.

Screenshot 2018-06-12 at 9.28.07 PM

In March of 2017, Mark Johnson a state legislator and supporter of the Bottle Bill, predicted a “tsunami of new containers” with the doubling of the deposit, and he said there’s no where to redeem them in much of the state.

Willamette Week wrote about the Bottle Bill in February of 2017, just before the deposit doubled on April 1st of that year. On January 1st of 2018, the types of bottles that could be redeemed was expanded.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Bottle Bill, here’s some background from the State.

***

Neighbors near the Beaverton BottleDrop Redemption Center (9307 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Hwy) are suing the City of Beaverton because they say the site is industrial, not commercial as the zoning requires. The neighbors’ attorney, Michael Neff, said neighbors have complained of noise and loitering issues since the bottle drop opened in May of 2017 (KATU story).

Because of this legal case, Neff has researched OBRC practices, and he said he thinks the was the Bottle Bill has been administered hasn’t been good for the state and consumers. The beverage distributors and retailers that make up the cooperative (OBRC) keep the deposit from un-redeemed containers, so Neff said there’s an incentive for OBRC to have fewer, larger, less-convenient bottle redemption centers.

“With this system, consumers have to drive two or three miles to redeem their containers,” Neff said. “It’s convenient for them, it’s not convenient for us.”

Neff said he thinks it would be better, even though it would be more expensive for retailers and the OBRC, to have more bottle return sites at the stores where people are already going.

It’s unclear how OBRC chooses the type of bottle return for different locations, Neff said. And he also said he would like to see more transparency in OBRC procedures, including how much money OBRC bring in and spends on redemption centers.

In the video below, Schoening (@ 41:41) gave a presentation on the BottleDrop to the Lents Neighborhood Association in February. In the video Schoening said there’s a bottle return facility in the Pearl, but Neff pointed out it’s a far smaller operation than what’s planned for the Holgate location and will serve far fewer stores.

The BottleDrop Express located in the Pearl Safeway location (1303 NW Lovejoy St) location has two reverse vending machines, according to store staff.

In 2014, neighbors downtown organized to reject a BottleDrop that would’ve served three grocery stores. It was planned for W Burnside St between 17th and 18th Ave, and opposed because neighbors said it would draw too much vehicle and pedestrian traffic to the area.

***

On June 19th, Neff and his client will go before the Beaverton City Council, and they will determine if the BottleDrop is actually a recycling center. If they agree that is, it would not legally be permitted in the commercial zone where it’s located.

Neff has studied Portland’s property code, and said he thinks the facility planned on 82nd Ave doesn’t conform to current zoning rules. The City characterized it as a “Recycling Drop-Off Center” rather than a “Recycling Center”.

“The definition of ‘Recycling Drop-Off Center’ specifically provides that processing of materials is limited to ‘glass breaking and separation’.  Therefore, no aluminum can crushing or shredding of plastic containers can occur under this definition,” Neff wrote.

After looking at BottleDrop facilities around the state, Neff said OBRC is an “regulatory chameleon”, that represents its facilities differently depending on what the zoning allows.

The BottleDrop facilities are more of an impact on a neighborhood than OBRC represents, Neff said, and he said he wants to know what they can expect.

***

Young and the Lents neighborhood advocates were surprised when they learned about the placement of the BottleDrop back in March. They also believe what’s planned is an industrial facility rather than retail, as the zoning demands— and that the process wasn’t handled fairly.

Young said the Land Use Compatibility Statement for the facility was expedited by a staff member of Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who said in an email that he did it to help Jules Bailey, a former Multnomah County Commissioner, who now works for OBRC.

Eudaly’s office oversees BDS.

The staffer, Marshall Runkel, told Lents advocates he expedited the LUCS and apologized for not consulting with the neighborhood first. He also told them that he thought the property would have to go through a land use process first, Young noted.

The slight was even more shocking, she said, because Runkel promised better communication with neighborhood advocates on a tour of the same location where the BottleDrop is now planned. Since this incident, Runkel doesn’t return her emails any more, Young said.

Having the location zoned as retail means it might not have to go through a land use review, but it probably will because the scope of the project has changed, another neighborhood advocate pointed out. The property’s zoning also has a stipulation which brings in requirements for noise and nuisance abatement, and landscaping buffers, they said.

The original permit filed on March 29th said all the improvements would be to the interior of the building, but a new permit filed on May 23rd wants to remove the storefront, add egress doors, auto doors, and a night drop door.

There are several factors that can trigger a land use review, Young said, and the cost associated with the project is a major factor.

***

Young said she wants The City and OBRC to be required to take another look at the Land Use Compliance Statement to make sure what’s planned fits the code.

A BDS representative from the zoning hotline, who didn’t identify themselves, said a letter from the City of Portland determined that the proposed use of the facility lined up with the code. I asked another representative if there’s a process to how a LUCS could be reviewed, but didn’t make contact before deadline. I’ll update the story when I learn more.

Young said the project might have run into delays from Oregon Department of Transportation based on OBRC’s plan traffic flow.

***

When Fred Meyer Fuel Center moved into the neighborhood— just a few doors south on 82nd Ave— Young said they began the process a year or two in advance by sending letters to all the neighbors nearby. They worked closely with neighbors throughout the process, and Young said they’ve been a good neighbor since they’ve opened.

Young and other neighborhood activists said they aren’t against the recycling center, they just think it needs to be placed in location that fits the zoning and is more appropriate for industrial uses.

***

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