December 19, 2023 (Portland, Ore): 1000 Friends of Oregon, Neighbors for Clean Air, and Northwest Environmental Defense Center filed a legal challenge today to the building permits for the controversial Prologis freight warehouse slated for construction on the former Kmart site at NE 122nd and Sandy in Portland, taking their appeal to the Land Use Board of Appeals. The site directly abuts apartment buildings and is within walking and rolling distance of multiple schools, including Parkrose High School, Parkrose Middle School, and Shaver Elementary School. The petitioners are represented by Crag Law Center.
The city approved the permits without conducting any impact analyses or addressing community concerns regarding safety, health, and quality-of-life impacts with meaningful and enforceable protections. “Students, families, and people living in the surrounding neighborhoods have repeatedly asked the city to properly investigate how the development of this distribution center will impact their health and safety. NCA believes the city has the ability to provide one, and the community deserves to know,” said Nakisha Nathan, co-executive director for Neighbors for Clean Air.
The legal challenge follows numerous attempts since fall 2022 to work in good faith with the City of Portland to support the surrounding communities’ vision for this space. Freight warehouses pose dangers for the nearby residents and students, and bring pollution and environmental and social justice effects on communities, all of which have been well-documented.
“The city failed to apply its code or utilize its own environmental justice and equity goals laid out in its 2035 Comprehensive Plan, instead approving the construction of a massive freight warehouse in an already environmentally overburdened community,” said Rebeka Dawit, Crag Law Center attorney who represents the groups. She continued, “The neighboring community, local school district, Neighbors for Clean Air, 1000 Friends of Oregon, and NEDC have been advocating for the city to acknowledge and rectify the local community’s concerns about the potential diesel pollution, noise, exacerbation of urban heat islands, and increased semi-truck traffic since 2022. Issuing this building permit despite these real, valid concerns from the community is an outright failure on behalf of the city to apply its own environmental justice and equity initiatives.”
The building site borders the Argay Terrace and Parkrose communities, two of the most racially and ethnically diverse areas of Portland. The current design plan would introduce 37 freight truck bays into this residential area, adding approximately 1,600 daily trips along multiple high-crash corridors where numerous injuries and fatalities have been documented in recent years.
“Earlier this year, the Parkrose Neighborhood Association joined others, including the Parkrose School District, in asking for a moratorium on the development of large distribution warehouses, like the one planned by Prologis. We were disappointed to hear City Council thought enacting this moratorium was not an option,” said Annette Stanhope, chair of the Parkrose Neighborhood Association.
“At this point, our concerns about the negative impacts from the Prologis development, including diesel truck pollution and increased semi-truck traffic near our students’ schools, still have not been evaluated and addressed,” Stanhope continued. “We have heard that Commissioner Rubio’s office wants to facilitate a Good Neighbor Agreement between Prologis and Parkrose School District to bring benefits to the community. I would like to hear what kind of benefits Prologis would be willing to offer, however, I think the city has repeatedly failed to ensure offsite impacts would be addressed before issuing permits.”
In 2018, the City of Portland changed the site’s zoning from Commercial to General Employment, leaving open the possibility for a wide range of activities on the site. Today’s challenge to the building permits reflects the community’s frustration following attempts to shape the future of the site, which have been repeatedly rebuffed by city officials. This newest legal challenge is one of many notable developments at the high-profile site – including a catastrophic fire in July, which led to a class-action lawsuit against Prologis and the property’s owner.
“For over a year, thousands of Oregonians have raised the very real dangers and hazards that will come if a warehouse distribution center is placed near people’s schools and homes. I am disappointed that, instead of addressing these issues, we must resort to an appeal,” said Sam Diaz, executive director of 1000 Friends of Oregon.
“The city has the tools to prevent this exact situation from happening, and to make sure that people are adequately protected from various forms of development,” added Mary Stites, legal fellow at Northwest Environmental Defense Center. “It is unclear why the city repeatedly chooses not to utilize its own authority, at the expense of communities and our environment.”
Despite moving forward with litigation, the groups filing the challenge believe that solutions are still possible. Neighbors have expressed interest in supporting local efforts to tap into federal funding, like the CHIPS and Science Act funding, to offer programming that prepares the next generation for work through accelerated education, training, and hands-on skill application in growing career fields.
Rebeka Dawit, Crag Law Center: email@example.com
Sam Diaz, 1000 Friends of Oregon: firstname.lastname@example.org | (503) 694-3892
Nakisha Nathan, Neighbors for Clean Air: email@example.com
Mary Stites, Northwest Environmental Defense Center: firstname.lastname@example.org | (503) 768-6747