Homebuilder revives Sellwood development
POSTED: Friday, December 6, 2013 at 03:11 PM PT BY: Lee Fehrenbacher
When Mike Harn, the owner of Portland homebuilding company Anlon Construction, was first approached about taking over a 20-unit townhome development, he wasn’t interested.
Before opening shop in 2009, the custom homebuilder had worked for a Portland production builder that closed its doors during the recession. He had witnessed firsthand the risk of putting too many resources in one place. However, when the broker told him where the new development would be located, he changed his tune.
“He said, ‘How about if they’re in Sellwood?’ and I said, ‘Yes,’ ” Harn recalled. “We wrote up an offer a few days later.”
In October, Harn closed on a deal to buy the 31,000-square-foot lot for $2.06 million and revive the approximately $6.5 million Claybourne Commons project on Southeast Claybourne Street and 16th Avenue. The project has evolved, and so has neighborhood sentiment.
Surrounded by old Portland homes, neighbors disliked Claybourne Commons when it was presented previously as a modern, 20-unit condominium complex. Developers Drew Prell and James Morton started planning years ago, but the project was sidelined during the recession. In 2011, they reformatted it as a townhome development; however, ground was never broken.
Online comments in the DJC’s archives from 2011 are varied. Some offered support while others condemned the project.
“What an incredibly stupid place for 20 units!!” wrote one reader. “It’s already way overcrowded in that area and we don’t want it.”
Much has since changed. Near the corner of Southeast 17th Avenue and Tacoma Street (less than a mile south of the Claybourne Commons site), developer Wally Remmers is building a four-story, 46-unit apartment complex. Also, just east of that site, Urban Evolution Inc. is planning to build a 68-unit apartment complex on Southeast 23rd Avenue. Neighbors have adamantly opposed that project’s size, and have appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals to try and stop it.
Ellen Burr, land-use chairwoman of the Sellwood-Moreland Improvement League, said Remmers had previously considered buying the Claybourne Commons site for an apartment project with up to 100 units and no parking. Suddenly, Harn’s project seemed smaller by comparison.
“I think it will be an interesting project to have in the neighborhood – something refreshing,” Burr said.
Anlon has already completed demolition of two existing houses, and plans to begin underground work soon. Harn said he has a construction loan from Community Financial Co. Work has already drawn curious neighbors.
“As soon as we put our fences up and started doing some demo, I was down there five to six hours a day talking to the neighbors as they came by,” Harn said. “I think that probably it’s been a much different experience for us than it was for Drew and Jim at the beginning … The neighbors have been great. I was nervous for all intents and purposes, but they’ve been great. We just communicate.”
Harn, a former U.S. Army Paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, knows what it’s like to be barked at. Now 38 years old, he started building at 21 and prefers a more collaborative approach in his business. Neighbors originally took issue with a planned lack of parking at Claybourne Commons, so the revised plan includes a one-car garage for each townhome.
The development will be composed of four buildings with a common space between them. The average unit size will be approximately 1,500 square feet. Vallaster Corl Architects designed Claybourne Commons originally, though Harn has brought on Benjamin Waechter, Architect to update the drawings.
Those drawings are still being finalized, but Harn is putting a lot of emphasis on the windows, which unlike standard systems will be seated inside the framing members to make them appear more dominant. He said too much gingerbread on the exterior can sometimes make a building appear crowded, so he’s taking a minimalistic approach and using the windows as a centerpiece.
“The goal is we get to decide where your eyes are going to be drawn,” he said.
For Harn, it’s an opportunity to step into what he considers one of the most desirable submarkets in the city. Eric Post, principal broker at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, would agree. He’s listing the units.
“The location is just second to none in terms of a new project down there,” Post said. “The demand for ownership in an urban setting is still very high. There are lots of multifamily units, but these types of units give someone the benefits of homeownership without the maintenance, and without the inconvenience of the suburbs.”
Indeed, the Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood has seen some of the hottest real estate activity in recent years, with the median home sales price reaching $360,000 in November – a 23.3 percent increase year over year, according to the Regional Multiple Listings Service. However, homes in Sellwood routinely are listed for between $400,000 and $500,000. For instance, Everett Custom Homes recently bought a house in the southern part of the neighborhood, tore it down and built two homes in its place; the company then planned to market them for as much as $700,000.
Harn said his townhomes will likely sell in the mid-$300,000 range. He doesn’t anticipate any trouble selling them.
“It’s an area where you can walk through and experience Portland at every level,” he said. “There are small shops, thriving businesses, and some of my – dare I say – favorite trendy restaurants. It’s just a heck of a place … And if you need to be downtown, you’re there in 10 minutes.”