By Don MacGillivray
Nearly 1,100 public comments were received in the review of the second section of the Draft Comprehensive Plan in the forth quarter of last year. Most of the comments were received through the Map Application (Map App; an online platform that was used to both provide information and receive public comments). Ninety-eight public meetings and workshops were held with an average attendance of about 25 citizens.
During the citizen comment period staff received 350 comments about Southeast Portland. The other districts each averaged about half as many comments. There were more comments in southeast relating to transportation issues. This was closely followed by the comments about land use and commercial centers and corridors. Pedestrian, bicycle, and transit improvements were important issues. There were numerous suggestions for better bus service and alignments for new streetcars, but there was also concerns expressed about the expansion of the streetcar network. Residents want to improve safety and reduce conflicts among the various transportation modes by enhancing or limiting the interaction between trucks, cars, pedestrians, and bicycles at specific locations. Parking in and around new multi-family housing is a source of frustration. Development around new and existing MAX stations is needed for transit to achieve its full potential.
There were close to 350 comments related to land use citywide, including ideas expressed about zoning designations, residential compatibility issues, pattern areas, and related implementation projects. Many people asked for neighborhood plans to guide development in specific small scale locations. Additional design standards are desired to achieve the street scape improvement goals.
Many comments focused on the changes that teardowns and new housing can mean for residential neighborhoods. This type of new housing is often out of scale with the neighborhood and is also much less affordable than the housing it replaces. Even within historic districts, houses may be torn down easily if the owner wishes. The new Comprehensive Plan needs to address this issue of form and function. Many comments suggested that redevelopment can create many unwanted impacts that change the neighborhood character without improving its livability.
The city must address non-conforming uses of existing commercial buildings in residential zones. These buildings cannot be improved except as residential. Changing the zoning would allow further investment in these buildings, but the changes should remain consistent with revised planning policies.
Over 300 public comments were received related to commercial centers, corridors (main streets), and city greenways. The majority of comments generally supported the policy direction for mixed-use centers and corridors, but details of implementation were of concern. Main streets and civic corridors should have mixed use or commercial zoning that improves the street scape while sensitively impacting the adjacent areas. It is important that the neighborhood be protected in the zoning code and zoning map to achieve the needed and desired types of development.
The proposed Belmont, Hawthorne, and Division Town Center received mixed reaction from people’s comments. A number of respondents expressed confusion over what such a designation would do to the existing zoning in this area. The desire was expressed to improve the centers as bicycle-friendly places, with better pedestrian crossings and sidewalks as well as pedestrian oriented development. Development in the centers should be local retail in character with groceries, pharmacies, health clinics, and other services.
Concern was expressed about the impact of development on historic buildings and about new development that is out-of-scale with the character of nearby residential areas. Some comments called for design standards, compatibility with the historic scale of particular centers, and transitions in scale between high and low density areas. It was suggested that area-specific planning was needed with the guidance of the local area residents. Concern was expressed about growth in centers impacting housing affordability and causing displacement and gentrification.
Over 200 comments related to: air pollution, public health, urban habitat corridors, green infrastructure, watershed health, green design, wildlife habitat, air quality, and other environmental concerns. Many comments identified the tension between environmental health and the need for more land for industry and employment. Much of the land that might become new industrial sites might also become future greenways and urban habitat corridors. There was consensus that cleaning up brownfields (polluted industrial sites) should be a high priority, but there were concerns expressed over the public financial incentives that might help to accomplish this.
People are still concerned about the need for early notification and involvement in public and private development so that the community has the opportunity to meaningfully participate as stakeholders. This would allow the community to help shape what a development project might entail and how it would improve the livability of the immediate neighborhood. Comments were made about the need to empower people and recognized the challenges faced by people with little free time to participate. On all levels people’s comments suggested that the notification process needs to be improved and notification language should be clear and easy to understand and accompanied with excellent graphic illustrations.
The entire revised package, Goals and Policies, Urban Design Framework, Land Use Map, Citywide Systems Plan, and Transportation Systems Plan, comprise the Proposed Comprehensive Plan Update. It will be submitted to the Planning and Sustainability Commission in late summer 2014 with public review to follow its release. During the hearings process, written and oral testimony on the Plan will be received and considered. The Planning and Sustainability Commission will then recommend a revised Plan to City Council with the final Plan being published in the first half of 2015.