Consultant’s research affirms community support for thoughtful building design but says d-overlay system needs improvement
In May of this year, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, in collaboration with the Bureau of Development Services, hired consultant Walker Macy to lead an independent and comprehensive review of the City’s design (d) overlay zone, including the design review process, tools and results.
By August the consultant team had published the results of their analysis of Portland’s regulations and processes for the d-overlay and how they fit together. They also looked at best practices from other cities, including discretionary design review and the application of nondiscretionary design standards.
Last week, the Walker Macy team shared an Interim Report on the Design Overlay Zone Assessment (DOZA) during a briefing with the Portland Design Commission. The report outlines their findings, based on a review of peer cities, interviews with stakeholders, a public questionnaire and evaluations of example projects. The report also offers preliminary recommendations for improving the processes and tools that implement the d-overlay in the city of Portland.
What did the consultants learn about design review in Portland?
The consultant team found strong community support for thoughtful design and that Portland is recognized as a national model for creating a livable urban environment through design. However, the current d-overlay system could be improved to make the process more efficient and better align the regulatory tools with today’s design objectives.
What are the recommendations for improvement?
Walker Macy made several preliminary recommendations for improving the design review process, including the following:
- Adjust thresholds for different types of design review to best serve projects at all scales.
- Update Community Design Standards and Community Design Guidelines to better sync with each other.
- Reduce the Design Commission’s workload by making the process more efficient.
At the briefing, the Design Commission engaged in a robust discussion about the report, expressing support for recommendations such as those to consolidate and update the tools and offering the consultants directions for further investigation. Commissioners identified the need to incorporate community voices into the design review process as well as balance the goals of ensuring design quality with serving applicants effectively.
The DOZA team will release a detailed set of recommendations in early 2017. The public will have an opportunity to weigh in during an open house tentatively planned for February 2017.
The consultant team will then refine and produce a final report of findings and recommendations and present their work to Design Commission, Planning and Sustainability Commission and City Council in spring 2017.