November 18, 2013

Developers: Portland high-rise won’t pose wind threat

Concern that Bayside’s ‘midtown’ project could create a dangerous wind tunnel is being addressed, they say.

By Randy Billings
Staff Writer

While not a typical factor in city development projects, wind has emerged as a major point of contention in the debate over a massive mixed-use complex proposed for Portland’s Bayside neighborhood.

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A rendering shows the Somerset Street elevations of Midtown, a plan proposed by the Miami-based Federated Companies for up to four residential towers and a parking garage on roughly three acres of vacant city-owned land on Somerset Street, Portland, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013. Drawing courtesy The Federated Companies

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Related Documents

Read the 'midtown' wind assessment report

The Miami-based Federated Cos. is planning to build up to four residential towers and a parking garage on roughly 3.25 acres of vacant city-owned land on Somerset Street.

The Planning Board will hold a formal public hearing about the project on Dec. 10, at which point the board could take a final vote.

The project – known as “midtown” – has already received a $9.5 million subsidy from the city for a parking garage. The City Council also increased height limits over public opposition to move the project forward.

The wind issues are tied to the building height, and the developer is tweaking the building design to address concerns about wind speeds.

A 165-foot-tall building essentially functions like a sail on a sailboat, capturing the wind and driving it downward and around structures at speeds greater than would otherwise be experienced in an open area.

“The higher you go, the faster the wind” effect, said Planning Board Chairwoman Carol Morrissette.

Peter Monro, a landscape architect and co-founder of Keep Portland Livable, which opposes the high-rise complex, said he fears it will create unsafe conditions on the ground, especially during the winter, because it will be so much taller than the surrounding buildings.

“We think this is a bad development. It’s a terrible design and it sets a bad precedent for the city,” said Monro, whose group has hired an attorney to help oppose the project.

City staff and Planning Board members agree that wind speeds are an area of concern, but not to the extent portrayed by Monro.

“We’re pretty confident the wind speeds can be addressed,” said Jeff Levine, the director of the city’s planning and urban development department.

Federated Cos. commissioned a wind study by Rowan Williams Davies & Irwin Inc., a Canadian consulting firm with an office in the developer’s hometown of Miami. The firm says it has conducted more than 2,000 wind model studies and has created its own software to help try to predict post-development wind patterns.

The study only looked at the first phase of the project – a 165-foot residential tower with first-floor retail space and a six-story parking garage. It did not examine other wind-related issues, such as snowdrifts, air quality and door pressure.

RWDI concluded that wind impacts could create uncomfortable ground-level conditions but would not be dangerous to pedestrians. The areas most affected will likely be a residential courtyard and a pathway – or mews – between the residential tower and the parking garage.

“Wind speeds at most outdoor amenity spaces, either at grade or above grade, are predicted to be higher than desired for passive activities, such as sitting,” the report concludes. “No dangerous wind speeds ... are predicted at any (of the) pedestrian areas.”

The firm noted that the building’s facade is broken up by terraces and step-backs, which help reduce wind speeds at ground level. However, that design could make it uncomfortable for residents on those terraces, especially during the summer, the report states.

The firm analyzed wind patterns recorded at the Portland International Jetport between 1973 to 2013 to come to its conclusions.

Not surprisingly, the most fierce and biting winds come from the northeast during the winter months. Those prevailing winds flow over Back Cove, Interstate 295 and over low-lying buildings on Marginal Way.

“(The winds will) hit these buildings pretty much at full force and full face,” Monro said.

But Greg Shinberg, a local representative for the developer, said cold, blustery winds are a fact of life here during the winter.

(Continued on page 2)

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