Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are floor area ratio (FAR) and maximum height limits?

Floor area ratio (FAR) is the relationship of buildable floor area (total amount of square feet) to a given site area (amount of land). Think of floor area as the volume of a building. FAR regulations tell you “how much” building you can create. This volume can be shaped to create taller, narrower buildings or lower, wider buildings. FAR scales to the site, so a 3:1 FAR for a 20,000 square foot site would allow 60,000 square feet of building/development, whereas a 3:1 FAR for a 40,000 square foot site would allow for 120,000 square feet of building/development. More floor area means more residents, employees or customers are expected to use that space.

The City regulates FAR to help achieve multiple objectives, including regulating the overall bulk of buildings. For the Mixed Use Zones Project, allowed FAR is set at a certain level for each corresponding zone. Projects may earn additional FAR through a “bonus” system. This system provides additional floor area for buildings when the development provides key public benefits: affordable housing or affordable commercial space. The bonus program and public benefits are described in the Proposed Draft.

The City sets maximum height limits to regulate how tall buildings can be. These heights are typically established based on public expectations about the size of buildings in varying neighborhood areas, the preservation of scenic public views, and the scale of buildings near lower density residential areas. 


What’s the main difference between the current zones and the proposed zones?

The new zones and related regulations more directly guide the mass and form of buildings, require building heights to transition to the scale of adjacent residential zones, provide incentives for public benefits such as affordable housing, require outdoor space for residential units, call for landscaping or green elements as part of development in most zones, and require ground-floor commercial uses in the core areas of centers. Below is a summary of fundamental changes to the commercial mixed use zones:

MUZ Model

For complete details, review the Mixed Use Zones Project Proposed Draft, Section VI. Amendments to the Zoning Code.

What are Centers and Corridors?

The City’s new Comprehensive Plan proposes to focus future growth in mixed use Centers and Corridors, which will serve as the anchors of convenient, walkable neighborhoods. Learn more about the Comprehensive Plan.

Centers are compact, walkable and pedestrian-oriented urban places that are a focus for community activity, commercial services and housing. They are connected to public transit and active transportation networks. Examples include the St. Johns, Hollywood and Hillsdale town centers; and the smaller Woodstock and Multnomah Village neighborhood centers.

Corridors, like centers, are areas where Portland will grow and change over the next 25 years. They are busy, active streets with redevelopment potential. While corridors may extend for several miles, locations along corridors that are places of more focused activity are considered to be centers (such as the Hollywood, Roseway and Parkrose centers along the lengthy Sandy Boulevard corridor).

Why are commercial zones changing to commercial/mixed use?

Most commercial zones currently allow a variety of uses, including retail, offices, services, housing, and even light industry. The new zones will continue to allow a broad array of uses. However, the new plan forecasts that much of the city’s new housing will be located in centers and corridors, often in mixed use buildings, that may include commercial uses on the ground floor and housing in the floors above. Mixed use provides options and flexibility by allowing a variety of uses in one building. Commercial typically refers to buildings that solely have commercial uses, such as an office space or retail spaces. Recasting the zones as commercial/mixed use provides clarity to the community that these zones may include a variety of uses, including housing. The new regulations are designed to better address issues that arise with multi-story mixed use types of development.

When will zoning changes take effect?

Early 2018 is the earliest that these zoning changes are expected to take effect. The Planning and Sustainability Commission is expected to make a recommendation to City Council in fall 2016. Then City Council will consider the recommendations, amend them through a public hearings process, and adopt them by ordinance. After that, the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission will review them for compliance with state planning laws and acknowledge them.

Do I have to build housing or a commercial use on my property right now?

No. Residential uses are allowed in the proposed zones — similar to current zones — but are not required. However, housing is encouraged in some zones through bonuses and incentives. Retail and other commercial uses are also allowed in the Commercial/Mixed Use zones. In some locations within identified centers, the Centers Main Street overlay zone (“m” overlay zone) is applied. This overlay zone will require an active commercial type of use as a part of the ground floor of buildings in these areas. However, existing uses may continue.

Can I continue to use my property in the way I currently use it?

Yes. Generally, existing development and uses are “grandfathered” and can continue to operate as they do currently. The proposed zoning would affect new development changes and additions, when the property owner chooses to make changes to the property. 

Does this proposal affect ownership of property?

No. This proposed zone change affects the scale and form of new buildings and the type of uses allowed in the zone, but it does not affect ownership of property. 

How were these proposed new codes developed?

This proposal to revise zoning for commercial/mixed use properties was developed over the past two years by City planning staff based on feedback from many sources, including a project advisory committee, neighborhood residents, business folks, architects, developers and others. The project team hosted neighborhood walks to learn what people think about new development in their communities, and attended numerous meetings with community stakeholders to gather information and understand differing perspectives. Open houses, information sessions and advisory committee meetings were advertised and open to the public. Background reports and assessments, concept reports, meeting notes, project newsletters and other documents are available on the project website.

Why is the city doing this now?

The Mixed Use Zones Project is part of Portland’s Comprehensive Plan Update. State law requires periodic updates to the Comprehensive Plan.

The Comprehensive Plan is a 20-year plan to shape the growth and development of the city. It includes policies, infrastructure projects and a land use map. You may have received other notices about the Comprehensive Plan Update over the past year. The proposed zones will implement the new Comprehensive Plan.

What is an overlay zone and a plan district?

Overlay zones consist of regulations that address specific subjects that may be applicable in many areas within the City.

Plan districts consist of regulations that have been tailored to a specific area of the City.

Both overlay zones and plan districts are applied in conjunction with a base zone and modify the regulations of the base zone.

To explore where proposed overlay zones and plan districts are applied, visit the Map App

For complete details, review the Mixed Use Zones Project Proposed Draft, Section VI. Amendments to the Zoning Code.

What is floor area?

Floor area is the total portion of a building that is above ground. Floor area is measured from the exterior faces of a building or structure. Floor area typically includes the area devoted to parking in a structure that is above ground level. 

Why are these changes proposed?

The new Portland Comprehensive Plan projects that a substantial amount of future growth will occur in centers and corridors located throughout the city. The City of Portland is revising the mixed use/commercial zones that will be applied in these centers and corridors to make the zoning rules work better for everybody involved.

City planners have heard that rules for building should be easier to understand, new mixed use/commercial buildings should fit in better with the neighborhood, and the Zoning Code should more effectively encourage new buildings to have things that the community values, like affordable housing.

This zoning change for mixed use and commercial areas will help manage growth to create more vibrant places, increase housing choices, and enable businesses to thrive and meet the daily needs of nearby residents.

What are the permitted uses in my proposed zone?

There are several ways to explore the permitted uses in your proposed zone:

  1. Visit the Map App to explore an interactive map of proposed commercial/mixed use zones where you can search for a specific address or browse the map to learn more about each proposal. The Map App also accepts testimony on proposed changes.
  2. Download a summary chart to explore the permitted uses for existing and proposed zones.
  3. For complete details, review the Mixed Use Zones Project Proposed Draft, Section VI. Amendments to the Zoning Code.

Will the zone change require me to redevelop or sell my property?

No. This project will not require you to sell or redevelop property. As a property owner, you determine when it is appropriate to sell or redevelop your property.