By Daniel Perez-Crouse
The final stages of the Residential Infill Project Part 2 (RIP2) approached as the Planning and Sustainability Commission moved to adopt amendments at its February 8 meeting. The meeting saw clear approvals and mixed opinions on a few “rushed” proposals that had unclear implications for developers and residents.
As noted on the Planning and Sustainability (BPS) section of RIP2, it “addresses several outstanding mandates in the State’s middle housing bill HB2001.
“This bill requires Metro cities to allow duplexes on all lots where single homes are allowed and allow other types of middle housing such as triplexes, fourplexes, attached houses and cottage clusters in many residential areas.”
The first part of RIP mainly addressed the residential zones from R2.5 to R7 (these are single dwelling areas classified by how many lots are allowed per a certain amount of feet – so, R7 would be one lot per 7,000 feet).
RIP2 addresses housing types allowed in all residential zones. This includes many specific actions and initiations, like permitting duplexes and other types of middle housing on buildable lots in the R10 and R20 zones.
In their discussion among the nine amendments, some, like numbers eight and nine (these contained more minor, technical alterations), were passed without any real discussion.
Amendment one is in response to assessing the feedback to have wildfire risk as a constraint for additional middle housing density and deciding not to enact that constraint for multiple economic and safety factors. It passed with minor concerns that may need to be revisited later down the line.
Discussions were more involved when it came to Amendments five through seven.
Amendment five, broadly speaking, seeks to create a “pathway” for side-by-side units that can be divided into their own lots for fee-simple ownership and mirror bonuses for affordable fourplex, fiveplex and sixplex homes. This allows for the possibility of larger sites and alternative standards for smaller project sites.
Jeff Bachrach, Land Use Attorney at Bachrach Law, said, “I’m not comfortable with the whole approach. If accomplishing what we are calling the sixplex side-by-side requires allowing more coverage and reducing setbacks, I think that is going to have a somewhat significant impact on the character of this product.”
Bachrach ultimately felt it was too early to start tinkering with RIP1 initiatives like this. Moreover, he addressed the “huge opposition” RIP1 had in relation to how these larger developments, let alone sixplexes, would look in neighborhoods and that it may be too early to start “tinkering” with RIP1 in this instance
Erica Thompson, Vice Chair and Associate at Hennebery Eddy Architects, continued this opposition saying, “I’m concerned that we are adding code complexity and it’s not giving us a whole lot of benefit.”
She said she supports an approach where they would engage nonprofit developers between now and future discussions with Portland City Council to develop and vet more effective solutions.
Oriana Magnera, Climate and Energy Policy Coordinator at Verde, believed the issues involved in this amendment demanded more time, thought and engagement from the people who would be impacted by it.
Amendment six featured concerns with its increase on the FAR (floor area ratio), which is currently the same for triplexes and fourplexes, to encourage fourplex development and larger units.
Bachrach didn’t understand its purpose since sixteen fourplexes are already being developed.
Thompson said, in its defense, that, “I think with the lot coverage protections in place, we are disincentivizing fourplexes. Whether sixteen is a resounding success, I don’t have a great sense for that, but if you’re not getting FAR to build for it, then there’s a disincentive to go beyond three.”
However, Katie Larsell, Executive Director at Oregon Unitarian Universalist Voices for Justice, felt this may have been a bit rushed and will be more of an incentive to build nice, but expensive, fourplexes.
As a result of some of these concerns, amendments five and six did not pass. Larsell said the units would likely be better than what is currently in development (increased size), while still preserving the FAR bonus for developers choosing to make affordable units in their fourplexes. This general sentiment was echoed by other members.
Amendment seven, which would allow triplexes, fourplexes and affordable multi dwelling structures with five or six units on smaller size lots than is currently allowed, passed with some resistance at five favoring and three against.
Eli Spivek, Owner, Orange Splot, LLC said, “My hope is to do away with the minimum sizes. If you can fit it, you can fit it; and if you can’t, you can’t. I don’t see a benefit to the public from preventing the building of small units.”
Some potential issues with the future analysis of RIP1 being impacted with this change and problematic expectations set for developers were expressed as well.
Sandra Wood, Principal Planner, BPS, said it might set off a bad chain of events where people are told they could fit something in a smaller lot, but then can’t meet setbacks or building coverage and need to submit a land use review which leads into other complications.
Amendment seven ultimately passed and there were noticeably high spirits after making it through all of them. They concluded by accepting motions to revise their documents to reflect these updates and move forward with recommending City Council adopt the RIP recommended draft volumes 1-3.
There is a lot of history and technical details involved in this particular initiative, so to learn more, head over to portland.gov/bps/rip2.
While an official date has not been determined, it’s outlined that City Council will hold public hearings on the RIP2 Recommended Draft beginning in the spring.