By Max Horten,

A City of Portland Hearings Officer has recommended a proposal by the Concordia University Foundation to rezone five lots next to the Concordia University campus along NE 27th Avenue. The proposal now heads to the City Council for a final hearing.

Hearings Officer Nancy Hochman issued her decision May 3, endorsing a Bureau of Development Services staff report which recommended rezoning the five lots from Campus Institutional 1 (CI1) to Residential 5,000 (R5), the most common residential zone in Portland.

Three of the five properties (6705 NE 27th Ave, 6623 NE 27th Ave, 6325 NE 27th Ave) already contain single-dwelling houses. One (2636 NE Dekum Street) contains a duplex, and one (6305 NE 27th Ave) is vacant. No development has been proposed for the properties at this time.

Concordia University ceased operations in the spring of last year. On June 29 it was sold in an auction on the Multnomah County steps to the Lutheran Church Extension Fund for $3 million. 

The Concordia University Foundation, which manages the university’s endowments, must distribute those assets to other charitable institutions under the auspices of the Oregon Attorney General “in keeping with the original intent of the donors,” said Foundation president George Thurston.

The final hearing at City Council, which will be open to public testimony, has not yet been scheduled.

At a virtual hearing on April 19, Hochman listened to the Concordia University Foundation’s proposal, BDS staff’s report, and public testimony.

Speaking on behalf of BDS staff, Marguerite Feuersanger said that the proposal complied with all approval criteria in Portland’s Zoning Code and “goes a long way to shoring up the residential character of that west side of northeast 27th.”

The properties have stood mostly vacant since 2016, said George Thurston, president of the Concordia University Foundation, and everyone he’s spoken to on that street “is anxiously waiting to have new neighbors…They want to see new families move into those residences so the block can get back to the sense of being a close-knit neighborly community.” 

Others voiced support for the proposal but underscored its economic impact and opportunities for communities, particularly Black and Indigenous, who have roots in the neighborhood, where Concordia’s campus footprint has grown in step with gentrification and rising costs of living. John Washington, executive chair of the N/NE Business Association, called on attendees to “look at the lay of the land there and recognize the struggle of some of the indigenous people in this community. 

“What we’re hoping for is that somehow along the line we can get in front of this or be a part of it and not be run over by it.”

Fawn Aberson, Outreach Coordinator for the Soul District Business Association, identified local organizations already working to return Black and other displaced families to North and Northeast Portland, such as the Portland Community Reinvestment Initiative. “There are community-based organizations that are readying people in that demographic to become homeowners. They have a pipeline,” she said, urging collaboration to “stand up Black wealth creation through home ownership.”

“We hope that you take the next step and come across the aisle,” she said to representatives for the Foundation, “and see how much we can do to rectify some of the grave disparities that have been implemented in the past.”

Carlisle Daniel, a resident of the Concordia neighborhood, asked if granting the zoning change “sets any sort of precedent or makes it an easier process to change zoning on other campus properties in the future.” Marguerite Feuersanger, the BDS staff representative, said no, “but if it is approved, we would be looking at a different zoning map and consider that new land use pattern.” Concordia University owns an additional block of student housing on the west side of 27th Ave between NE Highland St and NE Liberty St which is zoned CI1 and not included in the current proposal.