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Planning and Sustainability Director Susan Anderson reflects on the achievements of 2016 and shares priorities for the exciting year ahead in 2017

This year, in collaboration with Portland residents, businesses and agency partners, we ushered in several critical policies and programs that will set the stage for a more prosperous, healthy, resilient and equitable city. At the top of the list are 1) Portland’s new 2035 Comprehensive Plan, 2) zoning code changes to allow inclusionary housing, and 3) our award-winning Climate Action Plan.

These new plans and tools will help Portland manage growth as we welcome residents and businesses from around the world. In recent years, the city has experienced an exceptional level of population and job growth causing housing affordability and homelessness to reach crisis levels. In response, City Council has adopted new tools to significantly increase investments in affordable housing and create more housing options for Portland residents. A few examples include:

The 2035 Comprehensive Plan

With the adoption of Portland’s new 2035 Comprehensive Plan, the city is ready to grow by 120,000 new households over the next 20 years. The Plan will help more Portland residents find housing in one of Portland’s great neighborhoods near parks, schools, shops and other amenities. In 2017, BPS will work on code update projects to implement the comprehensive plan, including new code to enhance and improve multi-family housing, and improve and streamline design review standards and guidelines, and the process overall.

Inclusionary Housing

In support of the Portland Housing Bureau, BPS advanced efforts to meet the need for affordable housing in the city.  Senate Bill 1533 adopted last February, authorizes local governments in Oregon to create inclusionary housing programs.  BPS and PHB staff developed policies and regulations to create affordable housing units in new multi-dwelling residential development, including financial offsets to make it feasible for developers to provide affordable housing in their projects.

More shelter space for vulnerable residents

BPS responded to the housing crisis by quickly expanding the possibilities for shelter for vulnerable community members. Newly adopted code changes will increase the number of shelter beds in many zones and allow shelters to be located closer together.

Residential Infill

Portland has dozens of wonderful, walkable single-family neighborhoods. As these neighborhoods grow and change, community members are concerned about maintaining the character of their neighborhoods, while identifying options so more people can afford to live in these quality places.  In December, Council endorsed new general concepts for infill development.  These concepts will be used as the basis for the development of new code provisions. Changes will be discussed with the Planning and Sustainability Commission during briefings and public hearings during 2017.

Central City 2035

Can you guess which neighborhood has the most residents in Portland? The answer is the Central City, with more than 40,000 people calling the area home. The Central City 2035 Plan will help ensure that the Central City maintains its position as the regional job center and becomes even more vibrant, walkable, and full of amenities, arts and culture. A draft plan is moving through the Planning and Sustainability Commission now and we hope to be at City Council with hearings on the final plan this spring.

In addition to the many planning projects completed this past year, BPS took significant action to green our transportation options, reduce our carbon footprint city-wide, provide clean energy choices, make our neighborhoods healthier, and reduce, recycle and compost waste.
Examples include:

No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

In December, City Council approved a new policy that prohibits development of new bulk fossil fuel terminals and restricts the expansion of existing fossil fuel terminals through changes to the Zoning Code. This is a first for a U.S. city, sending the message that Portland is committed to reducing our dependence on nonrenewable fuels.

Deconstruction—instead of demolition

Local climate action often provides benefits to our homes and neighborhoods as well. The Deconstruction ordinance was another first for Portland, resulting in the city becoming the first place in the country to ensure that valuable materials from demolished houses and duplexes are salvaged for reuse instead of crushed and landfilled. In July, Council adopted new rules that BPS developed that require a house or duplex built in 1916 or earlier (or that is a designated historic resource) to be fully deconstructed rather than demolished. 

Home Energy Score

Council also approved a new policy that requires house sellers to report their home’s energy use in their real estate listings. Like a miles-per-gallon rating for cars, the new policy will not only save energy but also provide consumer protection through transparency. Home buyers will now be able to closely estimate the cost of heating and cooling their home into the overall price tag of their purchase.

Energy Reporting for Commercial Buildings

Building energy use is the largest source of carbon emissions in Portland. Owners of commercial buildings are now tracking energy performance and reporting to the City annually, thanks to a new program instituted by BPS and partners. Similar to the Home Energy Score, this effort provides information for prospective renters and buyers of commercial space to make informed decisions and recognizes the most efficient buildings.

Electric Vehicle Strategy

The City’s new EV Strategy, also approved by Council in December, focuses on converting the remaining city-owned vehicles on the road to electric vehicles. One of many strategies Portland is taking to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector, this effort seeks to maximize the benefits of air quality and affordability to low-income residents and parts of Portland that are the most dependent on private vehicles.

Low-cost Air Quality Sensor Testing grant

This past year BPS and the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) were awarded $100,000 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to test low-cost air quality sensors that will measure transportation-related emissions. Through this project, BPS will help develop standards for air quality data as well as guidelines for Portland and other cities to use these types of sensors.

Award-wining Climate Action Plan

At this year’s C40 summit, Portland’s Climate Action Plan was recognized as the best in the world. The plan provides a strategy to put Portland on a path to achieve a 40 percent reductions in carbon emissions by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. BPS will use the Plan as a roadmap for building on the accomplishments to date, while implementing new policies that advance equity, save money and reduce energy use and related carbon emissions.

Portland residents and businesses have been at the heart of these many new planning and sustainability policies and projects, and have invested their time and energy to ensure that Portland remains a livable and sustainable city, while making room for new people and opportunities.  Together, these new efforts will help Portland continue to champion smart growth and affordable housing options, support climate action initiatives, and advance equity throughout the city.

With changes in national leadership putting many of our social, economic and environmental values at risk, we find that our work is more important than ever. Cities, like Portland, must take the lead in advancing these critical goals.

Here’s to a prosperous and healthy new year!

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