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Summary Notes: Joint Meeting of the Neighborhood Centers and Residential Development and Compatibility Policy Expert Groups

August 13, 2013 from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.

Centers PEG: Kate Allen, Lisa Bates, Kristin Cooper, Ivy Dunlap, Allen Field, Bob Granger, Gary Oxman, Rick Michelson, Mark Raggett, Alison Stoll
RDC PEG: Tamara DeRidder, John Gibbon, Michael Hayes, Rod Merrick, Emily Sandy, Irma Valdez, Justin Wood

Key Points and Outcomes

  • Different tools and approaches for managing scale transitions are needed in different places. Portland needs a corridor-by-corridor approach to determining appropriate ways of achieving transitions.
  • Need to consider the impacts of additional restrictions on building scale on housing affordability and on housing opportunities for future residents.
  • Activity impacts are often not site specific. Need to find ways of addressing impacts, such as from traffic and peoples’ behavior (e.g., public inebriation, noise), that cannot be addressed by screening and site design alone.

Welcome, Introductions and Updates
Presenter: Bill Cunningham and Barry Manning, BPS

Summary: Bill welcomed members of the Neighborhood Centers and Residential Development PEGs and guests. Staff for these two PEGs (Bill Cunningham and Barry Manning) summarized the areas of focus of these PEGs. Bill related that this meeting will be an opportunity to share the perspectives of both PEGs in exploring how the role of centers and corridors as places of growth and activity relates and transitions to adjacent lower-density residential areas. Bill encouraged PEG members to consider appropriate approaches for balancing priorities for focusing growth and activity in centers and corridors with desires to limit impacts on adjacent residential areas.

Scale Transitions
Presenters: Bill Cunningham and Debbie Bischoff, BPS

Summary: Bill and Debbie provided a presentation on issues related to transitions in scale between the higher-density zones of centers and corridors and adjacent lower-density residential areas. This discussion is intended to provide staff with initial guidance as they begin to consider approaches for implementing the draft Comprehensive Plan policies.

The draft policies focus growth and higher-density development in centers and corridors, helping to achieve goals for allowing more people to live close to services and transit, and providing the sustainability-related benefits of compact development (these priorities have been a focus of Centers PEG). However, where the higher-density zoning of centers and corridors is adjacent to lower-density residential areas, the new development can create compatibility and livability issues due to their larger mass and height, limited setbacks, and lack of transition requirements in many areas (the lower-density residential areas have been a focus of the RDC PEG). The draft policies call for transitions in development scale, but do not provide much guidance on appropriate implementation approaches for achieving these transitions. Some issues staff highlighted included:

  • Narrow bands of mixed-use zoning complicate balancing growth and transitions (limits development types and configurations, and provides little room for transitions in scale).
  • Currently there is no citywide zoning approach to addressing transitions in scale.
  • Limited options for discretionary design review as a tool (transitions could be addressed through discretionary design review, but this is not available citywide – due in part to state limitations on the ability to require discretionary design review).

Staff shared the various types of approaches that Portland has used to manage transitions, including:

  • Requirements for step-downs in building scale within higher density zones where they are adjacent to lower density zones.
  • Zoning transitions outside higher density zones, in which medium density zoning is used as a transition to single-family zoning.
  • Zoning boundaries at mid-block (or keeping areas of mixed-use zoning one-lot deep along major streets), limiting the area of neighborhood impact but contributing to abrupt scale contrasts.
  • Zoning boundaries providing a full-block of mixed-use zoning depth, providing more space for scale transitions, but expanding area of change.
  • Use of trees and landscaping to soften scale differences, responsive to the more vegetated character of western and eastern neighborhoods, but requiring sufficient site space.

Staff invited PEG members to share their perspectives on what priorities staff should consider as they investigate implementation approaches, and to provide feedback on which approaches might be appropriate to apply more broadly in the future.

PEG member comments included:

  • Need to know how regulation of development scale and transitions impacts the numbers, types, and affordability of future housing. Issues of design, scale and transition should not be used as a cover for exclusionary practices.
  • Need to consider impacts on the health of residents of future multifamily housing. If we limit development in centers and corridors with good access to services, are we forcing more people to live in outlying, less walkable areas?
  • Need to think long-term regarding scale and context. Those nearby low-lying houses may not always be there.
  • Transitions in scale are needed at the edges of the higher-density zoning.
  • Solar access should be a consideration in determining appropriate building scale (scale along east-west streets needs to be considered differently than along north-south streets). Zoning boundaries between higher- and lower-density zones located along streets have less solar access impacts on lower-density zones.
  • 45 feet is an odd height to use as a scale limit. It is tall enough for elevators, but 65-foot buildings are more cost effective and make more sense in many areas.
  • Step-downs to streets are important for preserving the character of areas where low-rise buildings predominate.
  • Density and tall buildings may not be appropriate or feasible in all areas. Development economics in southwest and east Portland do not support higher-density development.
  • Step downs in scale are important. Managing building height and bulk is important to livability. Need to consider access to light and air.
  • We should not assume everything will change, so context should be a consideration.
  • The various approaches to transitions Portland has used are all reasonable tools. Different tools and approaches are needed in different places. Need a corridor-by-corridor approach to determining appropriate ways of achieving transitions.
  • Need to consider whose voices are being heard when we consider implementation approaches. Is it just homeowners? Are renters being considered? Are we considering just people who are here now, or also future Portlanders?
  • Transitions in scale are needed as a compromise (between accommodating growth and neighborhood concerns about limiting change)
  • Windows and the privacy impacts of taller buildings are an issue.
  • We are in a city – we cannot expect that there will not be privacy impacts (even 2-story buildings allow neighbors to see into your yard).
  • Concentrating housing in compact areas close to services is a good idea, but concerned about corridors.
  • Focus development around transit hubs – don’t want continuous stretches of 4-story buildings along lengthy stretches of corridors.
  • Organizing principle should be 20-minute neighborhoods, allowing more people to be close to services.
  • Need to be better in communicating growth concepts to the community. Need 3-dimensional graphics to show community members where growth is intended to be focused, intended patterns and scale.
  • Need to avoid regulatory approaches that lack flexibility and force everything to look the same.
  • Base allowable building heights at a height 10-feet above adjacent residential zones.
  • In historic districts, need to set height allowances to be in-scale with existing development.
  • Need to be more creative in engaging the public about development scale. Use lego blocks to show building scale relationships. Help people see the connections between density and additional services.
  • If we minimize scale contrasts at the cost of density, where does density go instead? Is it really a good idea to limit growth in areas where we want growth to happen?
  • Our commitment to housing affordability should be a greater priority than concerns about transitions.
  • Need greater clarity in our policies regarding what is meant by preserving privacy and access to light.
  • We need to do a better job at communicating expectations of change to the public.

Use and Activity Transitions
Presenter: Barry Manning, BPS

Summary: Barry provided a presentation that highlighted issues related to managing the impacts of activities in centers and corridors on residential areas. Centers and corridors are intended to be places of focused activity. However, an intense mix of uses can create impacts and conflicts between non-residential and residential uses. The draft Comprehensive Plan policies identify the need to improve the interface between non-residential uses and residential areas. Staff is looking into appropriate implementation strategies for improving this interface. Some issues to consider include:

  • Many policies encourage development along transit streets, but fewer policies address the compatibility of different land uses.
  • The intensity and scale of residential/mixed development in centers and corridors may amplify use conflicts.
  • Many commercial sites have minimal lot depth in which to buffer/mitigate impacts to nearby residentially-zoned areas.
  • Mitigation and buffering - through lot-line landscaping - may not be an effective tool for some impacts.
  • Sometimes impacts can be better addressed through a review process, but most development is checked only for compliance with standards.

Implementation approaches Portland uses to address impacts include:

  • Transitional zoning patterns, using different zones to minimize/buffer direct use impacts.
  • Buffering, landscaping and screening requirements, such as code provisions that address impacts at the site level.
  • Regulation of off-site impacts through enforcement-driven code standards.

Barry shared examples of transitional zoning patterns and the use of landscaping and screening to provide buffers between uses, and also raised the issue of the impacts of activities on residents living within centers. He invited PEG members to share their perspectives on priorities and their ideas on appropriate approaches for managing the impacts of non-residential uses and activity.

PEG member discussion included:

  • Need to also consider the impacts of pollution along freeways and high-traffic roads. Need to address health issues and provide buffers from these impacts.
  • Parks are needed in centers to bring fresh air and provide a focus for community activity.
  • Need to consider use impacts within residential areas, such as from home occupations and short-term rentals.
  • Need buffers between industrial and residential areas.
  • Impacts are often not site specific. Impacts from traffic and drunk people cannot be addressed by screening and site design.
  • Some impacts are best addressed by the building code (sound, air quality, etc.).
  • Delivery trucks blocking sidewalks are a concern of neighbors.
  • Noise needs to be considered. Some neighbors are concerned about noise from bar patios.
  • Impacts of I-5 corridor traffic compromise livability. Something is needed in the policies about addressing freeway impacts.
  • The buffer between industrial activities (noise, odors, etc.) and residential areas should happen in industrial areas (onus should be on the industrial uses).
  • Tacoma in Sellwood is intended to be a mixed-use main street, but heavy traffic has a blighting effect. What tools can be used to address these traffic impacts and encourage mixed-use development?
  • Longstanding light industrial in Sellwood is part of the neighborhood mix. This allows creativity and land-use variety that is compatible.
  • Health should always be a consideration. Need to consider impacts of industry on residents. What are the impacts and what regulatory tools can be used to mitigate them?
  • Use good neighbor agreements, since impacts typically extend beyond an individual site. Explore ways of encouraging greater use of good neighbor agreements.
  • Portland will need to use a greater range of approaches to address impacts as it becomes a more mixed-use city.

Meeting Presentation:
Scale and Use Transitions Issues

Public Comment

  • Examples used in the transitions presentations are mostly from the inner neighborhoods. Need to address issues related to East Portland’s differing characteristics and urban form.
  • Need to address issues related to the Eastside MAX corridor along Burnside. Concerned about the amount of density between the light rail stations, where there is no transit access. Density should be focused more closely around the stations and where streets connect. Burnside is not wide enough for parking, which density creates more demand for, and there are not enough north-south connections across Burnside.

Next Steps
The next meeting of the Neighborhood Centers PEG will be Thursday, September 19th, from 8 to 10am. The likely focus will be the Comprehensive Plan “Map App” and a wrap-up of lessons learned from the Neighborhood Centers PEG discussions. There may also be an All-PEG meeting in the Fall to discuss the Comprehensive Plan Part 2 products.


For more information, please contact Bill Cunningham, Bureau of Planning and Sustainability at 503-823-4203 or or Steve Faust, Facilitator at 503-278-3456 or