Density vs livability:Public comments on Portland infill

Civic Affairs
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The City of Portland is holding a public hearing Tuesday regarding proposals for its residential infill project, a controversial idea that would change zoning laws in an effort to increase housing.

The hearing started at 5 p.m. at in the city’s hearing office located at 1900 Southwest 4th Avenue. 

Link: Submit comments regarding Portland’s Residential Infill Project

The project would affect 135,000 households in Portland, including most of Northeast, Southeast, and North Portland, as well as parts of Southwest Portland. A new zone overlay (“overlay a”) for 87,000 of those households would allow homeowners to add up to two accessory dwelling units, turn properties into duplexes, or create a duplex with an accessory dwelling unit. On a corner lot, a homeowner could create a triplex.

The proposal would affect most residential Portland neighborhoods.The idea, according to city planner Morgan Tracy, has an eye on the city’s future. The city’s comprehensive plan expects 100,000 new households in the city by the year 2035.

Charts on the Residential Infill Project from the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, November 29, 2017 (KOIN)

“For the future of our neighborhoods, if we want to increase their vibrancy and still allow people to live there and be more accessible for people at different income levels, we’re going to have to shake up what housing is available,” Tracy said. 

At the same time, the proposal would limit the size of new homes being built and existing homes undergoing expansions,  which would prevent the building of “McMansions,” new, mass-produced homes that conceivably lack architectural integrity. 

Under current rules, homes in the “R7” zone (those situated on 7,000 square-foot lots) are allowed to build homes up to 7,650 square feet. The proposed rules would cap these homes at 2,800 square feet, excluding finished or unfinished basements. Homes in the “R5” zone, on 5,000 square-foot lots, would be limited to 2,500 square feet – down from a current maximum of 6,750 square feet. Smaller lots in “R2.5” zones would be limited to 1,250 square feet for detached homes and 1,750 square feet for attached homes. The current limit for that zone is 4,375 square feet. 

Tracy said homes that are already larger than the proposed maximum would be considered “non-conforming”; if accidentally destroyed, they could still be rebuilt to their former size. 

With the proposal to limit home sizes, the city is attempting to preserve the character, look, and feel of existing neighborhoods; according to Tracy, the rules are “not a giveaway to developers.”

Still, many homeowners are upset with the idea that the Residential Infill Project could create many more infill opportunities in existing neighborhoods.

Multnomah Neighborhood Association president Martie Sucec called the zone overlay idea “helter-skelter, willy-nilly development.” While she said she’s not opposed to duplexes or triplexes on the right lot, she said that giving property owners in so many neighborhoods the right to build these multi-family units simply doesn’t make sense in terms of transportation, parking, and city services.

She rejected criticism of her perspective as “NIMBY-ism.”

“Let’s quit calling the people who want to talk about the [zone A] overlay names,” Sucec said. “It’s a logical fallacy — when someone brings an issue up, you call them names, rather than engage with the issue.”

City residents who can’t attend the May 15 hearing in person to deliver feedback are still encouraged to submit their comments on the residential infill project proposed draft online here. Tracy said the feedback the city receives will be incorporated into another draft, expected to be released later this summer. He said City Council will then hold hearings and vote on the proposal by the end of the year; the new rules would go into effect by March 2019.

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