Helping neighbors fight a dirty freight warehouse

last updated April 17, 2024

Over the past two years, Crag has been supporting residents in the Argay Terrace neighborhood of Northeast Portland to address concerns about a new freight warehouse being built across the street from Parkrose Middle and High School. Community members are concerned about the warehouse’s potential diesel emissions and pollution, noise, exacerbation of urban heat islands, and traffic risks for students.

Argay Terrace is one of Portland’s most diverse neighborhoods, and it has already been overburdened by industrial activity. While the warehouse was still in the planning phase, Crag helped amplify the many voices asking Portland city officials to consider the impacts of the development on the neighborhood. Despite these efforts, the City approved the project without addressing the community’s concerns.

aeriel view of Parkrose and Argay Terrace neighborhood of Northeast Portland showing site of proposed freight warehouse that is next to apartment buildings and across the street from Parkrose High School.

Site of the proposed warehouse, next to Parkrose High School and two apartment complexes.

In December 2023, we filed a lawsuit on behalf of Neighbors for Clean Air, 1000 Friends of Oregon, and Northwest Environmental Defense Center challenging the warehouse’s building permit. Our clients are asking the City to apply its own land use rules and city code, which require consideration of the off-site impacts an industrial use like the warehouse will have on surrounding communities.

One of the guiding principles of the City of Portland’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan, which regulates development like the freight warehouse, is to “promote equity and environmental justice.” In practice, however, the City ignored the calls for it to take a harder look at this project and whether it was consistent with that goal despite the City’s authority to consider the project’s off-site impacts.

Crag attorneys Eric Writson and Rebeka Dawit at the Parkrose High School EJ in Action Fair talking to students about the warehouse, careers in Environmental Justice, and what it’s like being an environmental lawyer.

“The City’s unhesitating approval of a large freight warehouse across the street from a middle and high school in an environmentally overburdened community demonstrates the gap between the City’s environmental justice goals and what is happening on the ground. Challenging the warehouse’s building permit is an opportunity to try and prevent the risk this project poses to the neighborhood, hold the City accountable to its own policies, and work to ensure community voices are taken seriously in future developments.”

Rebeka Dawit, Crag Associate Attorney

What's at stake

The 244,000 square foot warehouse is being built next door to multiple apartment complexes and directly across the street from Parkrose Middle and High School. The surrounding Argay Terrace neighborhood ranks 8 out of 94 in neighborhoods with the most racial and ethnic diversity in Portland. And a 2019 Multnomah County report found that 70% of Parkrose students are BIPOC (top 1% diversity in Oregon), and 74% of students come from low-income households. 

The area is already exposed to a disproportionate amount of diesel pollution and has relatively high rates of asthma. The many trucks coming to and from and idling at the warehouse will add to these environmental injustices. 

The warehouse will also increase traffic on an already dangerous intersection and what has been designated as a high crash street by the Portland Bureau of Transit. Many students of Parkrose Middle and High School rely on this intersection to get to school. The significant increase in heavy freight trucks barrelling through the streets of the area is a major risk.

Despite all of these concerns, the City approved the project without utilizing its authority to consider off-site impacts and its goal of preventing “repetition of the injustices suffered by communities of color throughout Portland’s History.” The City did not use any of its authority to condition the permit in order to alleviate the warehouse’s air pollution or traffic risks. 

The fight against the warehouse is an important precedent not only for the community surrounding the warehouse but for making sure the City’s practices line up with their environmental justice goals in future actions. Portland (and Oregon generally) has a history of discriminatory zoning practices, which has led to high polluting and harmful facilities in vulnerable and overburdened communities. Communities of color continue to be exposed to disproportionate environmental burdens in Portland.

History

The warehouse site, previously a K-mart, has been vacant since 2016, and was purchased by ProLogis in 2021. The building burned down in July 2023 as a result of negligent supervision of the property by ProLogis.

Community members first brought the project to Crag’s attention in 2021 when the permitting process was just getting started. Crag helped these community members understand what local laws required for the construction, coordinated with students and leaders at the Parkrose School District, and attempted to negotiate with city officials to address the impacts of idling diesel trucks and traffic on this already environmentally overburdened community.

Multiple community members and stakeholders brought concerns about the site to the City’s attention throughout the permitting process. For example, the Parkrose School District Board of Education sent a letter to the City highlighting the “concern among Parkrose students not only for air quality during practice and athletic events, but for traffic safety as they walk to and from school.”

As the warehouse moves forward, community members have remained engaged. Crag recently attended an EJ in Action Fair at Parkrose High School where students presented alternative visions for what the site could be used for to support the community.

Team effort

Neighbors for Clean Air works to realize an Oregon where every community has clean and healthy air to breathe through organizing and amplifying community voices. 

1000 Friends of Oregon is a land use watchdog that utilizes Oregon’s land use system to promote livability in every city and town so that we may effectively protect our working farms, forests, ranches, and vast network of interconnected natural areas. 

Northwest Environmental Defense Center enforces environmental laws to hold regulators and companies accountable and to preserve and protect the natural environment of the Pacific Northwest.

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