No Demolition Rules Changes in Sight

By Midge Pierce

With change likely years away, Portland’s demolition derby is virtually unstoppable.

The update of Portland’s Comprehensive Plan is slowly wending its way through City Hall. Eventually, it must go to the state for review and acknowledgement.

That means, for now, the City is powerless to stop the demolition of Portland’s affordable, often charming housing stock. Since the plan’s goal is to guide future growth rather than preservation, its ultimate outcome may have little impact on saving homes from demolition.

“It’s sad when a perfectly viable bungalow is torn down,” says Eden Dabbs, a Bureau of Planning and Sustainability communications and public affairs officer. “But if a property owner wants to tear down a house, by law he can do it.”

Council sessions are working through Comp Plan issues like potential affordable housing bonuses; a middle housing concept that would add density to residential neighborhoods and optimization of finite lands available for educational and healthcare institutions. The next opportunity for public testimony on zoning and plan amendments is April 14.

“Portland is obligated by state law to make zoning and code changes a certain way,” explains Dabbs. “It can be a long, laborious process.” (1)

Final plan elements could be adopted by the end of the year and move to the state for review and acknowledgement by 2017.

By the time a new 20-year plan is in place, citizens could wake up to a very different Portland.

Since the end of the recession, Portland has experienced a record number of demolitions. Dabbs recognizes that Portland residents are frustrated as developers seize the day, but adds the opportunities are not new.

“The multi-story buildings going up on streets like Belmont and Division have been allowed since the 1980s but there was no market until now.”

The Residential Infill Project provides another opportunity for public influence. The project, running parallel to the Comp Plan, is working to regulate the character of new development more sensitively. (2)

To expedite change, the Residential Infill Stakeholder Advisory Committee is accelerating its review of scale, mass, design and setbacks of new homes in single-dwelling neighborhoods as well as alternative housing options.

This too is a time-consuming process that may not conclude until late this year or next. Preliminary recommendations for new regulations will be presented first to the Planning and Sustainability Commission and then City Council for public hearings.

Headway was recently made regarding deconstruction. Council authorized the Bureau of Development Services to develop code language to require deconstruction in lieu of demolition of houses built before 1916 or on the  historic resources list. The code would reduce potential release of airborne toxins during demolition. These code changes are expected to go into effect by October 2016.

Dabbs says residential construction is slowly catching up to the demand for new housing units, but “the rapidity of new development will eventually level off, perhaps in the next year or so.” Ironically, that may happen about the time the Comp Plan gets implemented.

Anyway you cut it, a major goal of the City is finding ways to accommodate more density. Density will continue to hit SE Portland hard.

For questions about a specific property, call the Bureau of Development Services at 503.823.7700. 

(1) The  city’s schedule of meetings and projects is available at

(2) Check the Residential Infill Project website for updates and calendar details.

No Demolition Rules Changes in Sight

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