SE Updates

By Nancy Tannler

Houseless idea

Sunnyside Land Use co-Chair and local architect Michael Molinaro has a suggestion/solution to turn potential homeless locations into a tiny house village. In the diagrams on page 26 he shows how small storage modules could serve as a safe and orderly place for the houseless to live.

Molinaro did the research and came up with the idea of an 8’ x 12’ storage shed with a front door and a window that are available at Lowe’s for $3,500. These would replace tents and offer people a dry and secure place to keep their things while they sleep and work.

Currently Right to Dream Two (R2D2) is planning on relocating. Rather than setting up another tent village someplace, Molinaro’s suggestion is to find some land and install these tiny houses. “Tents are made of fabric which eventually leak, tear and are discarded,” he said. “These would offer some permanence and protection from the elements.”

Reports from across the country estimate that municipalities spend in excess of $10 – 15k per year per person.  “Perhaps an uptick on the $32 million of unpaid parking tickets could help fund this,” said Molinaro.

Dignity Village, near the airport at NE Sunderland west of NE 33rd, has been part of this larger solution for the homeless. Molinaro has spent time there to better understand how it works. It does even though it is a long ways from a grocery store, downtown and medical services.

The diagram shows how 100 units could be set up on 1.4 acres of land. The village would be a combination of R2D2 and Diginity Village, a self-regulating, city-recognized encampment out by the airport, in that the structures are more permanent.

Molinaro’s vision is to have a central structure that houses an office, men and women’s showers, an infirmary, a kitchen, restrooms, a resource room and a community room.

The tiny houses would not have electricity, water or utilities. “In thinking about how the homeless should live, we tend to place middle class values on them,” Molinaro said.

The idea of no running water, electricity, close proximity to noise and traffic might seem like a hardship to some of us, but for many homeless these amenities are not most important–sleeping safely and dry gear is.

Over 4,000 homeless exist in Multnomah County, and untold thousands in Portland proper and the problem is only getting worse.

Portland is not the only city with this problem but being the innovative people we are we can lead the way to a better solution for houseless people.

TriMet in SE

At the recent SE Uplift Land Use and Transportation meeting, Kate Lyman and Vanessa Vissar, representatives from TriMet, gave a presentation about the Future of Transit in SE.

Many of the existing lines will increase service and a couple of new lines will be added.

Line Y – yet to be named – will connect SE Portland the Columbia Corridor via NE/SE 20th Ave. which will improve connections to Sellwood, Eastmoreland, Union Manor, Cleveland High School and the MAX Orange line.

Line 43, an east-west service will connect Washington Square Mall with Clackamas Town Center.

Burnside #20 will increase service.

The Powell-Division Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line is expected to be confirmed during 2015 and early 2016.

The presentation was a draft  vision and if you are interested in weighing in on the vision for Southeast bus service you can go online at or call 503.238.RIDE (7433).

Infill reform

The Residential Infill Project, sponsored by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS), is updating Portland’s single-dwelling zoning rules.

Mayor Hales decided to fix the code in response to widespread unhappiness with the rampant demolition taking place in neighborhoods replacing affordable housing with houses that are out of scale and not in character with the neighborhood.

A BPS  project team will hold several public forums throughout the project to gather community input and feedback.

A Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) comprised of representatives from the building real estate and investment communities together with representatives from across Portland’s residential neighborhoods will be formed.

Marty Stockton, BPS SE District Liaison, said the Residential Inflill Advisory Committee will be recruiting volunteers until August 7. They will be addressing: 1. the scale of houses; 2. narrow lot development and 3. alternative housing options. For more information visit www,

Rob Merrick, Co-chair Land Use Eastmoreland spoke on the subject to members of SE Uplift’s board. It is his contention that the Oregon State Land Use Goal #1 – meaningful public engagement – has not been followed.

The State mandates clear and objective standards, but current city codes R5 and R2.5 that describe the legal circumstances allowing infill have become meaningless and confusing to the residents in these areas.

Merrick said that residents are dissatisfied with: lot splitting based on hidden lots of record;* compromised density, setback standards and the character and quality of new projects, especially residential infill.

Zoning codes R5 and R2.5  have been rewritten over the years in what seems to favor developers over the actual density standard required by 1986 Comp Plan. The results in many cases have been the wasteful demolition of viable houses being replaced by more expensive replicative houses that frequently don’t fit well with the neighborhood.

In 2013 approximately 300 demolition permits were submitted – about one a day. This equals .02 percent replacement rate which is comparable to other cities in the US.

Merrick understands that cities change and grow. This growth can happen smoothly if the citizens have a clear understanding of the rules about density and infill.

The code has become increasingly misaligned with the comprehensive plan, which is moving towards a recommended draft for City Council to approve.

These guidelines will direct the Cities growth for the next thirty years. It is imperative that the new zoning code is not at odds with the interests of Portland residents living in these zones.

His recommendations to reform the residential code are as follows:

•Eliminate lot confirmation of “historic lots of record”* as a basis for zoning

• Establish clear context for residential zoning designations and neighborhood planning

• Zoning is shaping the city, but goals and aspirations should shape zoning. Reform the zoning code to clearly reflect the intended results.

• Reform the zoning code to be readily understood with a modicum of training.

• Reconsider criteria for entitlement adjustments. (Brentwood Darlington)**

• Align with Comprehensive Plan goals and objectives. (which ones should be a focus of deliberation)

The current code does not satisfy these needs. That is why Merrick wants Land Use members of the SE Uplift coalition, citizens and PBS staff to be aware of the concers.

* Historic lots of record is a complicated issue. After 1979, the City adopted zoning standards that superseded any older lot lines that established lot sizes. In some places, subdivisions were created in units of 25 foot wide lots that were typically sold in blocks or 2 ,3, or 4 lots at a time. Typically lots were and are 100 feet deep.

Developers persuaded the city council to allow 25 foot lots so more affordable housing could be built. City Council allowed these lots of record to be “confirmed”. Consequently many  “skinny” houses have been built in neighborhoods around the city.

** At the same SE Uplift Board meeting Dave Messenheimer presented a situation in the  Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood where an applicant is proposing to divide a 22,300 sq. ft. lot into four 25 feet wide parcels. The case was presented to  the BDS staff on June 6, 2015.

The underlying lot lines were never the parcels of the 25’w x 100 ‘d mentioned in the preceding paragraph. Because other houses are on skinny lots, the developer would like to assume these four lots should meet code too.

The Hearings Officer takes note that BDS staff stated, In Exhibit H. 15, “The Portland Zoning Code does not provide guidance as to how [to] define the area used to evaluate compatibility when comparing proposed lots with existing lots”. The Hearings Officer finds there is no “right” or “wrong” delineation of the area to be used.…”

One more reason neighborhoods need clarity on R5 zoning.

What happened to duplexes?

An article appeared online about Portland’s ongoing housing shortage and how the focus has been on four-story apartment buildings rising along main streets when other options should be considered.

Portland micro-developer Eli Spevak  led 20 people on a Pedalpalooza ride called “The Missing Middle”, focusing on what Spevak sees as the forgotten stepping stone between Portland’s folksy neighborhoods and the urban future being built: the duplex.

Portland’s first zoning plan was established in 1920 and only a few neighborhoods were designated single family all the rest was Zone 2, which allowed for any kind of residential, from high-rise to single family.

In 1959, the code changed and single-family zones were actually expanded to cover more of the city. Consequently duplexes were no longer being built.

Spevak says that legalizing such buildings could reduce demolitions by making it more profitable for developers to add units inside existing houses rather than tearing old ones down.

Marty Stockton, Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) said duplexes are allowed on all corner lots and on transitional lots (lots adjacent to commercial zoned property) within the R20 through R5 zones. Note that in inner SE the predominant single-dwelling zone is R5.

In the R2.5 zone, which is also mapped extensively in inner SE Portland, duplexes are allowed outright on lots 5,000 square feet or more, as well as, corner lots and transitional lots.

In Multi-Dwelling Zones and Commercial Zones duplexes are allowed outright.

There are areas in inner SE Portland (Buckman, Sunnyside, etc.) that were mapped with apartment zones pre-1980 (A-1 and A-2 Zones, for example) that became Single-Dwelling Zones in 1980.

An example of a nonconforming duplex would be on an interior lot (not a corner) in the R5 zone. These duplexes are grandfathered, but at this time new duplexes would be prohibited in a R5 zone on an interior lot.

SE Updates

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