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Balancing housing opportunity and compatibility in the Alphabet and King’s Hill historic districts

Planners are seeking community input on potential zoning changes to balance affordable housing incentives with neighborhood compatibility in historic districts.

BHD flier

Did you receive a notice in the mail that looked like this? And/or do you live in the historic Alphabet or King’s Hill districts in NW Portland? Or, are you concerned about historic preservation or Portland’s need for affordable housing options?

If so, the City of Portland is interested in hearing your thoughts on potential zone changes that would adjust the allowed size of new buildings to improve compatibility with historic buildings in these special neighborhoods. At the same time, the proposals would expand incentives for affordable housing options for Portlanders in these and other historic districts.

The Better Housing by Design project is considering zoning code and map changes to encourage housing opportunities and affordable housing as well as to foster new development in scale with historic districts.

The potential changes would affect high-density residential (proposed RM3 and RM4) and mixed use zones (CM) in historic districts and include:

  1. RM4 zone changes (dark blue on map). In the proposed RM4 zone (currently RH with a base FAR of 4:1), reduce the base FAR to 3:1 when located in historic districts but give projects that include affordable housing units an FAR of 4.5:1.
  2. Change RM3 to RM4 zoning in part of the Alphabet Historic District (hatched area on map). In a portion of the Alphabet Historic district between NW 21st and NW 23rd that now has RH zoning with a base FAR of 2:1, change the proposed new zoning to RM4 (3:1 base FAR) to more closely match the scale of larger historic apartment buildings in the area.
  3. Allow affordable housing bonuses in mixed use zones in historic districts (CM – pink and red on map). In the CM2 zone in historic districts, such as along NW 21st and 23rd avenues, development is now limited to an FAR of 2.5:1 (typically three stories), with no option for development bonuses. In the CM2 zone in historic districts citywide, changes would provide a bonus FAR of 4:1 (up to four stories) for projects that include affordable units. A small number of CM3-zoned properties in the Alphabet Historic District currently with a base FAR of 3:1 would have a bonus FAR of up to 5:1. 

Alphabet District map

Map of zoning and potential changes in the Alphabet and King’s Hill historic districts. 


What is FAR (floor-to-area ratio)? 

FAR regulates the size of buildings. An FAR of 4 to 1 (4:1) allows 40,000 square feet of building floor area on a site that is 10,000 square feet in size, typically five or six stories.

base zone FAR


base zone with bonusRM4 zone base and bonus FARs of 3:1 and 4.5:1 would accommodate the range of larger historic multi-dwelling buildings in the Alphabet and King’s Hill historic districts, such as these examples.


Why are we doing this?

The intent of these potential zoning approaches is to:

  1. Provide incentives for affordable housing. This is important because Portland’s historic districts are places where people can live close to services and the employment opportunities of the Central City. These areas of the city have the highest densities outside of the Central City and are among Portland’s favorite walkable neighborhoods.
  2. Right size” zoning. The proposals would adjust rules for higher density zones so the size of new development is compatible with larger historic buildings in the area. In some zones (particularly RM4), current regulations allow development that is much larger than historic buildings, while other zones (RM3 and CM2) do not allow new buildings to be as large as nearby historic buildings. New development would still need to go through Historic Resource Review, through which development is reviewed to ensure scale and design is appropriate for the surrounding historic district.

Existing buildings

These zoning amendments would primarily affect new development. For those who own or live in an existing building, the changes would have little impact (except in the case of major additions). Historic landmarks and contributing structures in historic districts are protected by demolition review, which limits demolition of historic buildings.

Learn more and/or comment

Please provide questions and/or concerns about these potential zoning code and map changes by April 2, 2019, to: betterhousing@portlandoregon.gov

Or come see us in person at the Better Housing by Design table at one of the following events:

Tuesday, February 19, 2019, 5:30–7 p.m.
Historic Resources Code Project Open House
Architectural Heritage Center, 701 SE Grand Avenue, Portland

Tuesday, March 19, 2019, 4–7 p.m.
Historic Resources Code Project Open House
Center for Architecture (AIA Portland), 403 NW 11th Avenue, Portland

NW and EverettNext Steps

These potential zoning code and map changes are ideas only; they are not formal proposals. Project staff will consider community input in preparation for a work session with the Planning and Sustainability Commission on April 9, 2019. Public testimony will not be taken at this meeting, but community members can attend to listen to the discussion (please confirm dates, times and agendas one week prior by visiting the PSC Calendar ). The meeting will also be streamed live on the BPS YouTube channel.

If the Planning and Sustainability Commission decides to include these proposals in the Better Housing by Design Recommended Draft, the public will have an opportunity to testify on them in front of City Council. That public hearing date has not been set yet, but it will likely be sometime in Summer 2019. 

Additional Information

Potential changes to RM4 Zone 

RM4 is the proposed new zoning designation for current RH zoning that allows buildings with a floor-to-area ratio (FAR) of 4 to 1. In historic districts, this zoning is primarily located in the Alphabet and King’s Hill historic districts (a small part of the Irvington Historic District also includes this zoning, but is located in the Central City Plan District and is subject to different regulations). The original Better Housing by Design Proposed Draft continued the current base FAR allowance of 4 to 1 in the new RM4 zone and capped the amount of development bonus in the RM4 zone at a maximum FAR of 6 to 1 (buildings with 20 or more units, which are required to provide Inclusionary Housing affordable units, are provided with bonus FAR to help defray the costs of providing affordable units). This bonus FAR is considerably larger than the scale of historic buildings in the Alphabet and King’s Hill historic districts, creating uncertainty regarding whether new buildings with this scale could be approved through Historic Resource Review. The potential change is to reduce the base FAR to 3 to 1 and to set the standard affordable housing bonus FAR to a maximum FAR of 4.5 to 1. These base and bonus FARs would allow for development that is similar in scale to larger historic buildings in the Alphabet and King’s Hill historic districts (staff analysis of existing buildings in the Alphabet and King’s Hill historic districts indicates that larger historic buildings in both these areas typically range in scale up to about a 4.5 to 1 FAR).

The proposal also includes a special “deeper housing affordability bonus” available only for projects where at least half of units are affordable to households earning no more than 60 percent of median family income. In the RM4 zone, this bonus would allow up to a 6 to 1 FAR for qualifying projects (the required level of affordability would not be feasible for most development and would likely only be used occasionally by affordable housing developers). Current regulations for the RH zone allow an FAR of up to 7 to 1 when projects use amenity bonuses or FAR transfers. The draft regulations would limit most FAR increases to a 4.5 to 1 FAR, allowing FAR beyond this amount only for the deeper housing affordability bonus to prioritize housing affordability in historic districts. Achieving this scale would be subject to review and approval by the Historic Landmarks Commission.

Potential RM4 Zoning Map Changes

NW EverettIn a portion of the Alphabet Historic District that currently has RH zoning (2 to 1 base FAR), consider changing the new zoning to RM4 (3 to 1 base FAR) to more closely correspond to the scale of larger historic apartment buildings in the area. This change would apply to areas with current RH zoning located between NW 21st and NW 23rd avenues, from Burnside up to NW Hoyt Street. As with other historic district areas with the proposed RM4 zone, this would provide a bonus FAR of up to 4.5 to 1 for buildings that include affordable housing units. Analysis of existing buildings in this area indicate that 17 historic apartment buildings exceed the current base FAR limit of 2 to 1 and several historic apartment buildings are twice this scale (see Select Sites and Existing Building Floor Area Ratios).

Mixed Use Zones (CM2 and CM3) 

CM2. The primary commercial/mixed use zone in the Alphabet Historic District is CM2 (former CS zone), mapped along NW 21st and NW 23rd Avenues. Since May 2018, development in this zone has been limited to an FAR of 2.5 to 1 (equivalent to a three-story building covering most of a lot), with no opportunities for development bonuses (mixed use zone buildings with 20 or more units are required to provide affordable units but do not receive any bonus FAR when located in historic districts). Prior to May 2018, the CS zone allowed buildings to be built to a full four-story scale.  The Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission has provided initial direction to amend the zoning code to allow development bonuses and FAR transfers to be used in mixed use zones within historic districts citywide. This would allow a bonus FAR of up to 4 to 1 in the CM2 zone (maximum building height would remain 45 feet). This development bonus would allow four-story development similar in scale to larger historic buildings along the Alphabet Historic District’s main streets (see Select Sites – CM2 Zone). This bonus FAR of 4 to 1 is the same that is currently allowed in CM2 zones outside historic districts. Smaller projects that are not required to provide affordable units could also achieve some additional FAR (but not the full bonus) through transfers of FAR from other sites where historic buildings are being preserved.

CM3. A small number of properties at the eastern edge  of the Alphabet Historic District (along NW 16th Ave) have CM3 zoning, which has a base FAR of 3 to 1 (and a maximum building height of 65 feet). The proposed amendments would allow a bonus FAR of up to 5 to 1 (maximum building height of 75 feet).

CM2 Zone 

CM2 base ad bonus

Base FAR: 2.5 to 1 (current maximum) and Bonus FAR: 4 to 1

Examples of existing buildings in the CM2 zone (NW 21st Avenue)

3:1 non-historicFAR: 3 to 1 (non-historic)


3.2:1 non-historic

FAR: 3.2 to 1 (non-historic)


3.7:1 historicFAR: 3.7 to 1 (historic)


5:1 historicFAR: 5 to 1 (historic)


Documents

Planning and Sustainability Commission begins work sessions on proposed new rules for Portland’s multi-dwelling zones

Commissioners will consider public testimony on proposed guidelines for new apartments, townhomes and other multi-family housing as they prepare their recommendations to City Council.

In May and June, Portlanders reviewed and testified on proposed new rules for new construction in Portland’s multi-dwelling zones. The Better Housing by Design proposals would expand housing options, provide incentives for affordable housing, improve design, and support active living and green elements for new apartments and other multi-family housing developments.

Project staff released the Better Housing by Design Proposed Draft on May 11. And on June 12, the Planning and Sustainability Commission heard public testimony.

Watch the public hearing on video (testimony on BHD begins at 56:38).

Portlanders also submitted written testimony via the online Map App. Between the oral and written testimony, the Commission received 270 pieces of testimony on the Proposed Draft.

You can review what people said about the proposals in the Testimony Reader.

Wait! Are townhomes (like the ones in the picture) considered "multi-dwelling" or "multi-family" housing?

Yes, townhomes are considered multi-dwelling development (especially because the ones in the picture didn’t involve a land division, which creates separate lots for each unit). This project was built in a multi-dwelling zone. Townhomes, duplexes and other low-rise housing types are the most common types of development in most of the multi-dwelling zones. (Note: The proposed Residential Infill Project amendments would not typically allow this type of townhouse development unless approved through planned development review.)

PSC Work Sessions

Now the PSC will begin work sessions on the Better Housing by Design proposals to prepare their recommendations to the City Council. Commissioners will not hear public testimony at the work sessions. However, staff-prepared work session material will be posted on the project website so you can follow along.

Four upcoming work sessions are tentatively organized by topic areas:

Please confirm dates, times and agendas one week prior by visiting the PSC calendar.

All PSC hearings and meetings are streamed live on the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability YouTube channel.

Questions? Want more information ...

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is committed to providing meaningful access. For accommodations, modifications, translation, interpretation or other services, please call 503-823-7700 or use City TTY 503-823-6868, or Oregon Relay Service 711. 503-823-7700.

Portlanders tell the Planning and Sustainability Commission what they think about Better Housing by Design proposals for higher density housing

More than 30 people testified at a June 12 public hearing; written testimony on proposals to improve the design and livability of multi-dwelling housing accepted until 5 p.m., Monday, June 25.

The Better Housing by Design project is updating the rules that govern new development of Portland’s multi-family housing, such as apartment buildings, fourplexes and courtyard housing. The goal is to encourage better design and livability of these higher density housing types.

On June 12, the Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC) held a public hearing on proposed changes to the multi-dwelling zoning code. At the hearing, 32 community members testified on the proposals. The PSC has also received more than 150 pieces of written testimony to date.

Most of the testimony has been about development density and parking. You can view public testimony on the BHD Proposed Draft via the Testimony Reader.

The PSC welcomes written testimony until Monday, June 25.

Submit written testimony to the PSC by 5 p.m. Monday, June 25 via:

Map App: Click the “Testify” button 

U.S. Mail (letters must be received by June 25):

Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission
Better Housing Testimony
1900 SW 4th Ave, Suite 7100
Portland, OR 97201 

Next Steps: Work Sessions

The PSC will conduct work sessions on the proposals in August and September (specific dates to be determined). At these meetings, there will be no public testimony, as Commissioners will pose questions to staff and each other, then deliberate on the issues before making a recommendation to City Council. 

All PSC hearings and meetings are streamed live on the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability YouTube channel (click “Video” on the top of the home page for past meetings).

To view past PSC meetings on the Better Housing by Design Proposed Draft:

Links to the Better Housing by Design Proposed Draft documents:

You can find all the Proposed Draft material online at: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/76925

For more information about the Proposed Draft ...

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is committed to providing meaningful access. For accommodations, modifications, translation, interpretation or other services, please call 503-823-7700 or use City TTY 503-823-6868, or Oregon Relay Service 711. 503-823-7700. 

Public hearing on new rules for multi-family housing on June 12 at PCC Southeast

The Planning and Sustainability Commission wants to hear from you! Testify in person or in writing about proposals to make apartment living safer and healthier.

The Better Housing by Design Proposed Draft has been available for public review since May 11. It includes new rules to guide how new apartments and other larger residential buildings are built.

Major topics addressed by the project include:

  • Greater housing options and affordability to meet more housing needs.
  • Outdoor spaces and green elements for children to play, gardening and outdoor gatherings.
  • Building design that helps create pedestrian-friendly streets and respects neighborhood character.
  • East Portland design standards and street connections that respond to the area’s distinct.

Now the Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC) will hold a public hearing on the Proposed Draft. This is your chance to tell the Commission what you like and think could be improved about the proposed zoning changes for higher density housing development.

How to testify on the Better Housing by Design proposals at the public hearing

On Tuesday, June 12, starting at 5 p.m., the PSC will hear testimony from community members about the Better Housing by Design Proposed Draft. The Commission is committed to effective public involvement and is looking forward to hearing from you. Here’s everything you need to know about how to testify in person at the hearing:

  • Commissioners will hear testimony on June 12 starting at 5 p.m.
  • The hearing will be at Portland Community College Southeast Campus, Community Hall Annex (located at the western end of the campus along SE Division), 2305 SE 82nd Avenue. Look for the signs we’ll have put up to help guide you. See map at left for details (building COMX).
  • Project staff will be on hand starting at 4 p.m. to help people sign up to testify.

 One spot in line = One two-minute testimony slot

  • Signing up for someone else – If you are signing up for someone else, you’ll need to get in line again for each person.
  • Groups – If several people represent a group and want to testify together, they all need to be there to sign up for their two-minute slot at the same time. Each person in the group will need to wait in line to sign up individually for their two-minute slot.
  • People representing multiple groups – While the Commission encourages individuals to only represent one group, if a person is representing more than one group, they need to stand in line for each testimony slot. They may not sign up for several slots at once. 

Written testimony may be submitted through the Map App by June 25 at 5 p.m. Letters can be sent to:

Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission 
Better Housing Testimony
1900 SW 4th Ave, Suite 7100
Portland, OR 97201

Better Housing by Design Proposed Draft documents:

See more Proposed Draft materials.

For more information about the Proposed Draft

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is committed to providing meaningful access. For accommodations, modifications, translation, interpretation or other services, please call 503-823-7700 or use City TTY 503-823-6868, or Oregon Relay Service 711. 503-823-7700.

Better Housing by Design testimony (written) deadline extended to Monday, June 25 at 5 p.m.

Testify to the Planning and Sustainability Commission on proposed new rules to improve higher density living in person or in writing.

The Better Housing by Design project is proposing new rules to make housing in Portland’s multi-dwelling zones more livable, healthy and connected to other streets and transit.

To give community members more time to consider the proposals, the date for submitting written testimony on the Better Housing by Design Proposed Draft has been extended to Monday, June 25 at 5 p.m. The Planning and Sustainability public hearing for the Proposed Draft remains scheduled for Tuesday, June 12

You can submit written testimony to the Planning and Sustainability Commission by June 25, 2018, at 5 p.m.

TESTIFY IN WRITING

Via the Map App: www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/mapapp

Select Better Housing by Design and click on the "Testify" button. Testifying in the Map App is as easy as sending an email. And once you press “submit,” you can see your testimony in the Testimony Reader in real time. You can also read other people’s testimony.

By U.S. Mail:

Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission
Better Housing by Design Testimony
1900 SW 4th, Suite 7100
Portland, Oregon 97201

TESTIFY IN PERSON

Or testify directly to the Planning and Sustainability Commission at the public hearing:

Tuesday, June 12, 2018, 5 p.m.
PCC Southeast Campus, Community Hall Annex
2305 SE 82nd Avenue, Portland, Oregon

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE PROPOSED DRAFT

Read the Proposed Draft documents.

Learn about specific properties by using the online Map App. Enter an address to learn about the proposed zoning for a property (the proposals only affect properties that already have multi-dwelling zoning).

Questions?

We’re ready to help. Call 503-823-0195. Interpretation services available. You can also e-mail staff at betterhousing@portlandoregon.gov or visit the project website: www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/betterhousing.