The Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission heard testimony last month that proposed new parking requirements for new multi-family development was unnecessary and contrary to city goals, and also that it didn’t go far enough to solve urgent problems. After hearing two and a half hours of such testimony, the Commission approved the recommendations of staff with minor tweaks. The Portland City Council is scheduled to take action on the matter at 2 pm, April 4 at City Hall.

The proposed changes would require developers to provide .25 off-site parking spaces in developments of 41 residential units or more. The requirements would apply in the RX high density housing zone and most commercial zones, where there are currently no requirements for such parking. The new rules would continue to exempt multi-family development from parking requirements when it is within 500 feet of frequent transit service, but it would redefine “frequent” to mean service every 15 minutes or less, rather than 20 at present, and it would exclude areas that once had such service but no longer do.

Other changes would allow developers to provide the required parking on new or existing lots up to 500 feet from the residences (the distance was increased from 300 feet by commission member Chris Smith), and permit developers to reduce the amount of required parking in exchange for adding additional bike parking or space for a car sharing company.

A week before, an ad hoc task force of neighborhood representatives had called for stricter requirements. The Parking Task Force called for buildings with 20 or more units to provide parking, and for the ratio to be .5 spaces per unit.

Allen Field of Richmond, one of the most impacted communities, said the city wasn’t considering the cumulative impact of multiple projects; on and near Southeast Division Street, he said, 400 new units are planned. “There needs to be more than a one-size-fits-all approach,” he said. Rather than “negative enforcement by making it hard and expensive to own a car,” he suggested incentives for non-drivers.

Ellen Burr of Sellwood-Moreland repeated the cumulative impact point and added that City studies have focused on the entire city rather than the most impacted areas. Linda Nettekoven of Hosford-Abernethy said strategies must consider the impact of residents, shoppers and employees. “

Several Division merchants, including Division Hardware owner Kathy Lambert, said parking congestion is interfering with their business.

Bonnie Bray of Clinton said, “I’ve waited a long time for the neighborhood to change, and I welcome the vibrancy it’s brought to Division. It’s wonderful to see people walking up and down. But there are tremendous problems.” She suggested the use of commercial lots for apartment buildings is an “improper use,” and that there are issues of design as well.

On the other side, people argued that the changes weren’t necessary because on-street parking was available within two blocks, as a city study had found, that the changes would encourage car ownership and use contrary to city goals, and that they would reduce the number of units that could be built while increasing their cost. Activist Doug Klotz and Ted Labbe of De-Pave complained that the changes for proximity to transit would require 5,000 lots to provide parking that isn’t required now. “You won’t get transit there because you can’t get density there,” Klotz said.

Tony Jordan of the Sunnyside neighborhood said he “reluctantly” supported the staff proposals but added, “Certainly there are greedy developers who build unsightly and mismatched buildings. These will still be built; now more of them will have garages. Certainly there are landlords who won’t pass savings on to their tenants; now there will be less savings to bargain for. Many people need to own cars; now those who don’t will be incentivized to keep them by the promise of free parking.” He also accused parking advocates of using parking requirements “as a tool to prevent dense and affordable housing from being built.”

Brian Soppolo called off-street parking “unnecessary and costly. Street parking is not an entitlement, and if it is, it should be prioritized for classes such as the elderly.” He also called for allowing for exemptions from the rules if neighborhood groups endorsed them.

Jeff Mandell of Kerns derided critics of current zoning, saying, “One side’s arguments are based on facts, the other on pseudo-science, opinion and denial,” and compared such people to “climate change-deniers.”

Mayor Charlie Hales addressed the Commission and framed the changes as a temporary, emergency measure. “We call on you as volunteers to take on big, complicated issues, but also urgent community problems, and this is one of them,” he said. “We’re eager to take this up as well, and to act on it in time for the next wave of development.” Several commission members, including Smith and Mike Houck, made it clear they supported the changes only as temporary measures that could be revisited. Kathryn Schultz voted against the proposal.