Residential Infill: Another Breach Of Public Trust

Dear Editor:

As citizens concerned with widespread home demolitions and egregious infill, we attended Residential Infill Project meetings (RIPSAC) of the last 10 months and were appalled to witness the process being hijacked by self-serving builders, Bureau of Planning & Sustainability (BPS) and so called “housing advocates”.

The original intent of the RIPSAC (To preserve treasured neighborhoods and make room for new and existing residents) was replaced with one to eliminate single family zoning in most of the city, and allow multifamily housing on most lots.  This, despite city data showing no shortage of land zoned for housing.

Affordability – The term “Middle Housing” emerged as a rallying cry from self-appointed “housing advocates” and a bevy of builders and developers, encouraged by the BPS.

While posing as the solution for affordability, it has become a mandate to destroy, densify and displace neighborhoods zoned for single families in much of the city.  RIPSAC members representing the real estate industry (the largest contingent) were,  not surprisingly, pleased to support the concept and ask for more.

Key aspects of zoning code were taken “off the table” from the outset, despite the fact that this committee was intended to address problems with code that encourages demolitions, lot splitting and displacement of moderately-priced existing homes.

Rarely were there thorough discussions about core issues. During the day long “charrette”, all of 50 minutes were allowed to discuss Scale, supposedly a foundational topic.

Following a period of indoctrination by senior staff, participants were rushed through code defining exercises about as thoughtful as speed dating. Meetings had the appearance of staff herding sheep into a pen.

A RIPSAC summary report barely mentions public testimony, not to mention that the survey to gather public opinion with thousands of responses, was dismissed as unrepresentative of the population.

The public is being duped by an avalanche of words. The Draft Proposal has misleading language and hard to read graphics. “Make front setbacks consistent with setbacks on adjacent homes” sounds like regulation to fit the neighborhood.

Not exactly. It means that if an adjacent house is closer than the proposed 15 foot standard (most of the city was built with 20), the setback could be even less. The online survey written to induce drowsiness is a thicket of questions obscuring the intent.

Increasing density in a 2-3 blocks near urban corridors is a fine idea and it is already on the books, but the proposal defines “nearby” as a quarter of a mile.  The crude map shows much of the city, tens of thousands of lots, would be rezoned from single to multi family.

Are  residents who live there going to meekly allow the city to re-zone their neighborhoods?  This is clearly being done without most residents’ knowledge, or input.  How much longer can we tolerate the Bureau of Planning corrupting our residential zone designations, already a moldering block of Swiss cheese?

Icing on this baked cake are the “Open Houses”. The publicity is minimal, with scant opportunity for public questions or input.

The “City that Works” is again failing its promise to the majority of its citizens as it plows ahead with density, demolition, and displacement.

Perhaps the city’s planners should learn the meaning of  “collaborate” before ramming a disastrous zone change down our throats and adding to the mistrust and confusion that our neighbors feel toward our civic leaders. Or perhaps it is long past time for a change of leadership in the Bureau of Planning.

Sincerely,

Robin Harman Burlingame

Christine Yun Buckman

Merrilee Spence  

Southeast Portland