By Don MacGillivray

 

As Portland’s Comprehensive Plan nears completion, zoning code revisions are being seriously considered. The Mixed Use Zoning Project will propose new zones and regulations for commercial and mixed use development intended to improve height transitions adjoining lower density residential areas, address the scale and mass of larger buildings, encourage ground floor commercial uses, provide shared or outdoor space for residents, and foster affordable housing, commercial space, historic preservation, plazas and other features through greater density bonuses.

The Comprehensive Plan policies and goals describe what the City will do to meet the expected demands and opportunities of the future. The Comprehensive Plan Land Use map shows where new jobs and housing can go and depicts the developed areas where little change is expected as well as areas that are protected open space and natural areas. The Zoning Code and Map explains how the policies in the plan will be carried out. Both the Comprehensive Plan and the Mixed Use Zoning Project will receive public review later this spring and summer.

At least fifty percent of the new growth outside the central city will occur in the “centers” and “corridors” all over the city. In the new zoning ordinance, eleven of the current zones will be consolidated into four commercial-mixed use zones. Like the porridge of the three bears, there will be a small zone for small scale development (CM-1) a medium scale zone (CM-2), a large scale zone (CM-3) and one for high employment areas (CE). These will allow buildings of three stories in height (35 feet) up to seven stories (65 feet). However, a bonus of up to one story will be permitted as an incentive to include additional amenities or features that otherwise would not be built.

The city is treating “corridors” the same as “centers.” Hollywood is a good example of a center while Hawthorne Blvd. and Division St. are examples of corridors. Centers can utilize a wide variety of buildings by using all of the zones more productively than the typical corridor. Many corridors are along two lane neighborhood arterials generally with an existing two-story character. The CM-2 by allowing four story developments with bonuses might be problematic however the CM-1 zone seems to fit much better. Four lane corridors can more easily accept larger buildings than a can two lane corridors.

Community concerns include pedestrian-friendly streets, maintaining light and air along the corridors, plazas and open space, preservation of neighborhood landmarks, appropriate transitions between larger commercial buildings and adjacent residential neighborhoods, adequate parking, and allowing the community to have a meaningful voice in the development process.

The city’s response to these ideas includes regulating buildings heights in relation to the street widths, affordable commercial spaces, and expanded business and neighborhood notification requirements. If new parking standards are needed the Portland Department of Transportation will help address the issues. However developers and architects want certainty, flexibility, and simplicity in the new zones, and to use bonuses to allow for desirable public benefits in trade for larger buildings.

The desires of the development community are more basic than those of the community representatives. It is clearer how they can be implemented through the zoning code while the less specific community interests about new development will probably remain as ongoing aspirations. In many cases, the ideas oppose each other so that to respond to one is to deny the other. These aspirations and ideas will appear in the policies and goals of the Comprehensive Plan, but not all of them will find their way into the zoning code.

It is clear that the development community historically has been more vocal than the neighborhoods. Care should be taken in the new Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code process that ways are found to satisfy both community concerns and developer’s interests.

The mixed use zoning project does not address parking issues, design review, residential zones, or central city development. Many developers and architects can build projects that satisfy the community, but other developers often complain that good design costs them too much time and money. Design review standards and overlay zones are ways to encourage well designed buildings. Portland already has the housing capacity it needs for the next 25 years so there does not need to be additional rezoning for more housing density.

In Portland’s neighborhoods there are critics of the four, five, and six story apartments like those on Division St. and want new development to have less of an impact on the adjacent residential areas. There are concerns about new development creating less affordability, more congestion, a lack of parking, and increased crime. Some are saying they want multiple small units scattered through neighborhoods. Increasing the affordable housing supply without major visual changes to a neighborhood may depend on projects with the “right kind” of developer. The community wants residential development of different ages and types to mix well together in a harmonious local environment.

See the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability website for more information about the Comprehensive Plan and the Mixed Use Zoning project. The drafts of each will be finished soon.