By David Krogh

By the year 2035, the City is expected to grow by 123,000 households. 

Since Portland’s leaders have determined Portland will grow up and not out, most of this growth will occur within the Central City, in Portland’s neighborhood centers and main street corridors. 

DOZA (Design Overlay Zone Amendments) will include a simplified process for new development proposed within areas covered by the overlay. It also updates the city’s design standards that have not been updated in the past twenty years.

The project is intended to promote better design and an easier review process.  It creates a two-track review coupled with updated standards and guidelines. 

A simplified administrative track would be followed for straight compliance with clear and objective design standards.  This track would permit no public input and would be part of a project’s building permit review.  

For projects that can’t meet the clear track standards there would be administrative (staff review) options up to a discretionary Design Commission hearing with public participation.  

Developers would have to address discretionary design guidelines and the overall goal is to ensure quality, people-oriented development including improvements to the public realm where people can connect with each other while still promoting quality design and long term resilience.  

The development of DOZA and code language began in 2016 and culminated in the recent release of a discussion draft in February of this year. 

Public comments were solicited, resulting in a response report in June.  The proposed draft language has since been issued and a joint public hearing with the Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC) and the Design Commission took place October 22. 

The Southeast Examiner asked DOZA staff about the intent of the phrase “building a city designed for people.” 

Phil Nameny explained, “The term “A City Designed for People” is taken directly from Goal 3A of the Comprehensive Plan within Chapter Three’s Urban Form. 

“The intent is to design a city that serves the needs of all people, encouraging opportunities for social interaction and addressing discrepancies in quality of life. 

“This is generally achieved by creating places for people to meet face to face through robust pedestrian networks connected to buildings and infrastructure as well as buildings that offer inclusive spaces, welcoming entries, weather protection and eyes on the street. Together the features make up active centers and corridors.”

Almost no one is opposed to the need for better design standards, especially considering the many inconsistent, severely contrasting and blocky designs popping up all along eastside main street corridors these past few years. 

Getting the right balance is the hard part. Since the draft code language had been released in February, many concerns and questions have been raised regarding the DOZA review process, standards and guidelines.  

The October 22 hearing included testimony from SMILE (Sellwood Mooreland Improvement League), RNA (Richmond Neighborhood Association), and PDX Main Streets (PDX Main Streets Design Initiative). 

Commonalities were evident from most of the thirty+ attendees and written comments received. 

Primary concerns included the design review thresholds.  A sixty-five foot height was deemed excessive. 

Commenters from Alberta St. and Hawthorne Blvd. business associations testified that building heights with no public review could drastically change the main street character and cause adverse impacts to adjacent low rise buildings via the creation of “tunnels” over the streets and excessive shading (already witnessed on Division St.) unless building step backs are required.

Lack of effective buffers and privacy between tall but less than sixty-five foot buildings and adjacent residential buildings was raised because of lack of public input into the so-called “clear and objective” administrative track. 

Especially cited were questionable buffers, building separations privacy issues, and the lack of landscaping and tree cover at ground level. 

PDX Main Streets was concerned the City’s “one size fits all” approach to future building design in corridors does not consider either the history or character of these streets nor attempt to encourage the preservation of uniquely designed buildings. 

Heather Flint Chatto with PDX Main Streets stressed “all parties concerned support good design,” but asked why this can’t include older unique buildings that reflect local history?  

“We should be avoiding a scrape and replace mentality, she said. “Don’t downgrade existing architecture and the importance it brings.” 

In our interview, Phil Nameny responded: “DOZA considers the future, rather than solely on the foundational character of existing buildings. In some cases, the stated purpose for main street standards can be achieved, but DOZA is broader, more flexible and more future-oriented.”  

He added, at this time, only those areas within an historic overlay will be actively reviewed for preservation or maintenance.  

Under DOZA, the former Phoenix Pharmacy in the Foster neighborhood would not receive encouragement for preservation and/or renovation.  

Flint Chatto provided a quote from Architect Lawrence Qamar which applies to many of the concerns about DOZA.

“When buildings are demolished and replaced with a different architectural character that exhibits wealth, we are seeing a visualization of the displacement of people of color and the economically disadvantaged.  

“If new buildings look more like the historic patterns of the city’s main streets and town centers, the impression of displacement would be less implied.”

Commenters raised the issue of affordability and housing variety. Only new apartment buildings (likely market rate units), appear to be addressed by DOZA. This could likely contribute to gentrification, as suggested by Lawrence Qamar, and do little to provide for a variety of housing types as encouraged by Statewide Goal 10 (Housing).

Commissioners received several hundred comments either at the hearing, mailed or emailed prior to the hearing.  

Additional time for submission of testimony has been extended until November 15. This testimony can be submitted online at bit.ly/341Naql .  

Existing testimonies can be seen at bit.ly/2MLvZng. Both Commissions hold additional but separate work sessions starting in November and continuing into next year beginning November 7 with the Design Commission and November 12 for the PSC.  

To keep tabs on agenda dates, the PSC calendar is located at bit.ly/2JkR45F and the Design Commission calendar is at bit.ly/2piJDp1.

To ultimately determine whether DOZA’s changes will be better or worse, and to promote effective and transparent public involvement, interested persons are encouraged to keep engaged with the process and to make use of the links in this article. 

Interested persons with questions can also contact project staff member Phil Nameny at 503.823.7709. Email Phil.Nameny@portlandoregon.gov.