In a Reversal, Portland City Council Gives Preliminary Approval to a High-Rise in the Pearl DistrictResidents of Pearl District condos fear a new development will block views of the Fremont Bridge from their windows and Fields Park. (Abby Gordon)

In a reversal, City Council gave preliminary approval to a 17-story tower in the Pearl District after the developer made changes to create more space for a bike and pedestrian path along the Willamette River.

The fight over the project, known as the Fremont Place Apartments, was among the battles where people who live in tall towers objected to the new buildings going in and blocking their views.

The City Council initially sided with the neighborhood association, causing alarm within that the development community that a denial would discourage building in Portland even as the city faces a housing shortfall.

Among the key technical changes addressed by the architect since it was last before Council: The pavement of the Willamette River Greenway, as the bike and pedestrian path is called, will be a minimum of 20 feet, instead of 13 feet. And the building will be 43 feet from the seawall.

That was among a few changes the architect made after the building was given a preliminary thumbs-down. The developer also added affordable art studios in the bottom floor.

And after changes to the proposal, the neighborhood association agreed to support the building, as The Oregonian reported last week. The developer also agreed to donate $35,000 the neighborhood association said would go toward the legal costs of the appeal.

That $35,000 payment to the neighborhood sparked a moment of controversy at Council today—as a critic sounded the alarm that it could set a dangerous precedent.

"I think this is a path that everyone in this room will eventually regret. I think it’s unethical. It’s tantamount to either blackmail, bribery, or hush money. I think the idea that a neighborhood association would approach a developer to be compensated is something this council should take up as a discussion."

The changes "have satisfactorily addressed the concerns of the Pearl District Neighborhood Association," Stan Penkin, president of the neighborhood association, told council.

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In a Reversal, Portland City Council Gives Preliminary Approval to a High-Rise in the Pearl District