Sitka Apartments residents endured seven weeks of pile driving across the street, but four of the next construction projects will be built with quieter methods. Photo by Vadim Makoyed

Sitka Apartments residents endured seven weeks of pile driving across the street, but four of the next construction projects will be built with quieter methods. Photo by Vadim Makoyed

Neighborhood objections to noisy construction method gain traction with developers, city hall.
ac Allan Classen
Editor & Publisher

Email Allan Classen

The claim that no feasible alternatives exist to noisy piling driving in the Pearl District suffered a ringing blow when the primary investor in a proposed 28-story condo tower said a quieter construction method will be employed.

Joe Weston, a leading Portland developer for generations and the key financier of most Hoyt Street Properties buildings in the Pearl, said pile driving will not be employed for the new project, named Park Central, between Tanner Springs and The Fields parks.

In a May 29 letter to three residents who had complained about noisy pile driving recently completed nearby on Block 17, Weston said, “Shortly, Hoyt Street Properties will commence construction on a condo project on Block 15, and the decision was made three weeks ago that we will auger in the piling to eliminate the noise factor.”

Four builders about to begin construction projects in the Pearl have opted for augered pilings.

Four builders about to begin construction projects in the Pearl have opted for augered pilings.

Weston’s announcement echoed throughout the neighborhood and development community, undermining claims that the disruption and annoyance of nearby residents were inescapable collateral damage.

“That’s going to be a huge precedent,” said Richard Graham, an architect and member of the Pearl District Neighborhood Association planning committee. “No one’s going to accept pile driving anymore.”

The prediction was on target.

The second blow to the pile-driving-or-nothing camp came last month when Unico Properties, a Seattle-based company building a 26-story tower on Northwest Overton, announced that it too would install pilings by drilling rather than pounding.

Julie Currier, director of development for Unico, said the decision was made primarily for technical reasons—soil conditions were not right for pile driving—but noise was always a factor in deliberations.

“Being a good neighbor is really important to having a smooth construction project,” said Currier.

The next blow for civility came from Mill Creek Residential Trust, soon to begin a mixed-use building at the current Cash & Carry site on Northwest 14th Avenue.

“We have looked at the numbers,” said Mill Creek’s Managing Director, Sam Rodriguez, “and even though it does cost more, I have decided to go with the auger method.

“We believe in being part of the neighborhoods we work in, and want to be a good actor, so we always try to do the right thing,” Rodriguez said.

What happened to assertions that drilling is “ridiculously expensive” and unsuitable to the area’s subsoil?

Some of that propaganda was coming from DeWitt Construction, the company that has done virtually all the pile driving in the Pearl District.

Joel Burt, risk manager for DeWitt, said auger equipment is “incredibly expensive,” which he estimated at more than $1 million.

“That’s why we don’t have one,” he told the Examiner.

For companies that have invested in the equipment, the cost difference is not so great.

Weston said the difference in cost between pile driving and auger-cast was about 35 percent, or $100,000-$145,000 in the case of Park Central.

While developers reconsidered the merits of quiet and costly versus loud and cheap, the earth was also moving under city hall.

Pacific Foundation of Vancouver, Wash., specializes in drilled foundations.

Pacific Foundation of Vancouver, Wash., specializes in drilled foundations.

Mayor Charlie Hales, whose assistant in May denied to the media that he had ever promised to meet with opponents of pile driving, became
their ally before the end of June. After a presentation before council by Pearl residents Patrice Hansen, Mary Sipe, Candis Condo and Brooks Hickerson on May 25, Hales praised their efforts and offered support.

Noting the problem has citywide importance, Hales said, “We really need to figure it out.”

Promising to “continue to work with you,” the mayor added, “We hope to work quickly enough so it will make a difference.”

Days later, two city commissioners offered encouragement.

“Great work, Patrice!” Commissioner Amanda Fritz wrote in an email. “Thank you for your constructive advocacy.”

“Your presentation was compelling and well-documented,” said Commissioner Nick Fish. “You raise important issues of livability that deserve a prompt response. I look forward to hearing from both BDS [Bureau of Development Services] and BPS [Bureau of Planning and Sustainability] about our options.”

Hansen, a prime organizer of the grassroots campaign, shared her gratitude with a growing email list.

“I am encouraged by the response of the mayor and commissioners,” she said. “They are getting that there is a problem that must be addressed soon for the livability of all of Portland as construction is booming everywhere. … I am greatly encouraged, inspired and grateful that we are all working together for a greater good for Portland.”

She also acknowledged Bonnie McKnight and the Citywide Land-Use Group for providing support, wisdom and knowledge of city government.

Editor’s note: On July 1, Bridge Housing, developers of The Abigail apartments at Northwest 12th and Raleigh, announced a change of plans and it too will switch to drilling rather than impact-hammer pile driving.■