The city’s new 2035 Comprehensive Plan reflects zone changes affecting east Portland, most designed to slow the growth of development in neighborhoods east of 82nd Avenue.
City planners have targeted those areas for “down-zoning,” their term for switching housing units from more density to less. That means the plan is for fewer multifamily apartment buildings and condominiums built in the future, with more single-family homes developed instead.
In the mid-90s, the city up-zoned much of the areas along 122nd and 136th avenues, resulting in a flood of families, many immigrant, pouring into poorly designed, and ugly multifamily dwellings, which are now overcrowded and have an urban plantation feel. “We’re proposing turning that back to single family in areas south of Powell Boulevard along 122nd and 136th,” said Eric Engstrom, principal planner in charge of comprehensive and strategic planning with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.
Not all the multifamily units are being removed from the plan, because some of it is already developed, or about 80 percent developed. Other undeveloped patches of land will be rezoned for single-family homes. Families moving into the school district will still be able to choose either type of dwelling; however, fewer units will be available. “We’re hoping to reduce the number of households that move into the David Douglas School District,” Engstrom said. “By having so much growth capacity out there it was a little bit too much. We were overwhelming the system. The result of that is it gets slightly less development over the next 20 years, which hopefully allows the school district to kind of catch up in terms of facilities construction and being prepared for growth.”
Another reason for slowing growth is the lack of sidewalks and good TriMet service in the whole east Portland area. “So we’re trying to better match the ability to provide the services with the zoning,” Engstrom said.
Planners have not only figured out where all the people who might have moved to east Portland will reside, but also where the expected 200,000 new residents to the city will live. “Overall the city has more than enough supply of land available for housing to meet the needs elsewhere,” Engstrom said.
Those alternate locales include all the inner city neighborhoods in Southeast, Northeast and Northwest Portland, along with the Pearl District and the South Waterfront. Particularly along the main streets in those areas, apartments are springing up. “The hope is that more housing gets built in those more accessible locations that are closer to jobs and have better services,” he said.
Another reason more people are gravitating to smaller units is people are living longer, reducing the need for larger homes that once housed their children. At the same time, more people are choosing not to have children. “So it’s on both ends of the life cycle,” he said.
However, there is still a great need for family-size houses, particularly affordable housing, which is why areas such as Powellhurst-Gilbert are zoned for single-family use.
Areas that were not downzoned include the major corridors in east Portland, including Southeast Powell Boulevard and Division Street from downtown Portland out to Gresham. A major study to improve transit along those two streets is underway, so the city kept their multifamily density zoning.
The Gateway area, generally around Northeast 102nd Avenue, Halsey and Weidler streets, and Southeast Washington and Stark streets between Montavilla and Southeast 122nd Avenue, will continue to be zoned for development and density. That is because “Gateway as a whole is a major center in the city,” Engstrom said. “This is probably a 50-year plan but eventually it’s supposed to be the second downtown, the east Portland downtown.”
Other neighborhoods, such as Argay Terrace, which is in the Parkrose School District in outer Northeast Portland, also received rezoning to less density. However, those areas were not rezoned for the same reason as housing near David Douglas. That is because Parkrose has been able to build more schools and “has been able to keep up,” Engstrom said. Rather, the city is reducing multifamily zoning there because the area is so far away from jobs in the city core, lacks good transit service and has inadequate sidewalks and other infrastructure. “If you put an apartment building closer to downtown, you’re more likely that that person is going to take the bus and rely on transit and not cause as much traffic congestion and air pollution and things like that,” Engstrom said. “So moving that multifamily to a more central location is part of the effort to make the city more livable overall.”
Those inner city areas have more jobs, better transit service, complete sidewalk networks and more parks, he pointed out.
In Argay Terrace and other outer Northeast areas, the city added zoning called “mixed employment.” That employment zoning includes sections near the Rossi Farm site near Northeast 122nd Avenue and Shaver Street, the K-Mart site, and at another location further out on Northeast Sandy Boulevard near Northeast 147th Avenue. That rezoning is to prevent those sites from being built entirely as housing. “Right now east Portland has poor access to high paying jobs,” Engstrom said. “The people in east Portland have the longest commutes to get to living wage jobs. So, we’re trying to create more opportunity for meaningful job growth in east Portland. By that, I don’t mean low paying retail.”
Planners hope to locate small businesses or distribution businesses, light manufacturing or offices in those zones. Engstrom envisioned the area being similar to the central east side close to downtown Portland, which is full of creative services companies, distilleries, small manufacturers and people who design and build prototypes of products. As it is now, many east Portlanders must commute to the Columbia corridor or Washington County for higher paying jobs.
“That can reduce the number of people who have to commute to Hillsboro,” he said.
Portland native Al Brown, who lives in Argay Terrace, is wary of the Plan’s proposed zoning of commercial areas right next to residential areas in his neighborhood. He noted that from Northeast 147th Avenue going west, mixed employment is the proposed zoning. Stretching east from that street will be a commercial zone dubbed “mixed use dispersed.” According to the logo on the Comp Plan map, that designation includes residential, retail sales, office and quick vehicle service, which Brown claims are gas stations. “The only things I see as a real problem are the employment zones,” Brown said. He worries commercial businesses will be allowed to be located too close to homes. “Right over your back fence,” he said. “You’re going to be sitting in your family room or kitchen having breakfast and maybe somebody’s working on a truck and banging away on the other side of your fence. You might have 20 feet of back yard and 20 feet away somebody’s building stuff all day long.”
He added that an office or call center might not elicit that kind of noise, “but you don’t have that kind of control here.”
“The employment zone is a new concept,” Brown said. “Before it would have been either houses or apartments; the city has determined that there is inadequate manufacturing and industrial space in the city of Portland,” he added. “So they’re trying to find vacant ground some place that can become manufacturing and service space. And this is the vacant ground.”
Brown said most of the houses in Argay are on about 7,000 square foot lots, compared to 5,000 square feet for most homes in Portland. “Everybody who lives here bought into this neighborhood because of what it is—low traffic streets, nice residential area, lots of space around their houses, good-sized yards—and what the city’s trying to do is change the character of the neighborhood by doing things like this,” Brown said. “And people have a right not to be happy about that.”
Two of Brown’s neighbors have already put their homes up for sale in the area.
He said city planners should ask themselves, “Would you want to live next door to what you want these people to live next door to?”
In response to these concerns, Engstrom cautions, “I would not assume that all new employment is going to be noisy or smelly or dirty. Many employment uses are benign in terms of being neighbors. There’s a lot of good small business development that can happen that’s pretty non-impactful.”
Engstrom added that the zoning codes do include some control over the scale and setbacks of such business development. The city will be reviewing the nature of that zoning so the public will be able to comment about any concerns they have about uses that zoning allows. Engstrom said the city welcomes all feedback and citizen concerns.
“If we have feedback on that we can try and craft some amendments to that code to try and address that,” he said.
As for Brown, he has attended some public meetings on the Comp Plan but was distressed how few people showed up.” He plans to use the online comment application (see sidebar) to express his concerns about commercial zoning intruding into residential space.
After this fall’s four public hearings (sidebar), the planning commission will make recommendations in early 2015. Then the City Council will schedule hearings, probably in the spring of 2015, making its final decision by July 2015. After that, the Plan is sent to the state for review to determine if it meets state rules, with approval expected by late 2015 or early 2016.
Portland city planners figured out a clever way to gather public comments and trigger readership of their proposed 2035 Comprehensive Plan, the long-range plan to guide growth, change and improvements over the next 20 years.
Aware that some people prefer the applications on their computer, tablet or smart phone to hard copy documents or public meetings, the techies at the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability have created what they call a “Map App.”
The brainchild of the geographic information system (GIS) team at the agency, the brightly color-coded interactive maps entice viewers to browse through proposed land use changes, as well as transportation and infrastructure investments. One of the most personal features of the app is a box that lets people enter an address, then view the area within a quarter mile of the location. They will learn what changes might affect that property or neighborhood.
The Plan is divided into four main parts: Goals and Policies, Maps, Significant Projects, and Transportation.
Besides just looking, a citizen can comment about a proposal or change directly onto the Map App. Those remarks are sent to the Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC), a volunteer advisory group responsible for advising City Council on long-range planning decisions.
Still, there are folks who prefer to attend real meetings with live people. To accommodate their needs, the PSC has scheduled a series of public meetings:
Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 5 p.m. – (Focus on Goals and Policies) – SW 4th Avenue, Room 2500A
Portlanders may also submit feedback on the Proposed Draft of the 2035 Plan by writing to the PSC at 1900 S.W. 4th Ave., Portland, Oregon 97201-5380 or emailing comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org (include “Comprehensive Plan Testimony” in the subject line)
After considering testimony and revising the Proposed Draft, the commission will submit a Recommended Plan to City Council in spring of 2015.
The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has set up a helpline to answer questions from the public. The line is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours on Mondays until 8 p.m. Call: 503-823-0195.
In addition, the City’s District Liaisons hold office hours at various times and locations throughout the summer to help answer community questions. Check the Comprehensive Plan calendar for dates, times and locations or contact your district liaison.
A quick history of Portland’s land-use planning
The City created its first land use ordinances in 1918. The following year, the state legislature permitted cities to zone private lands, giving that same right to counties in 1947. The legislature adopted a comprehensive law in 1955 to regulate subdivisions and partitions of land. Governor Tom McCall delivered a famous speech before the legislature in 1973, urging it to approve more coordinated land use planning. That same year he signed Senate Bill 100, creating the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC). Its first goal was adopting statewide goals to govern development of local comprehensive land use plans.
In 1979 voters created Metro, a regional body governing planning for Portland and 24 cities, including creation of Urban Growth Boundaries, which set limits on development by separating urban from rural areas. The idea was to build up—with density—rather than sprawl out like Los Angeles, saving farmland and preventing traffic congestion.
In 1980 Portland created its first Comprehensive Plan, which was set up for periodic revision.
Metro adopted its 2040 Plan in 1994, a blueprint for the next 50 years, designating regional centers, such as Gateway, along with town centers, always emphasizing more compact, pedestrian and transit-friendly development within existing areas, rather than expanding the Urban Growth Boundary. Throughout the 90s, dozens of community plans emerged for areas all over the region. In 1996, the Outer Southeast Community Plan was created. In its housing section it states the need for the creation of 14,000 new housing units, including single and multi-family units, as well as row houses on vacant lots, to accommodate the current residents, plus 20,000 more people that planners expected, back then, to arrive in outer Southeast Portland.