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PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - More row houses are an option being considered by the Residential Infill ProjectMcMansions could be thing of the past in Portland if city planners get their way.


But densities could also increase in parts of many existing single-family residential neighborhoods.

Those are two of the proposals in the recent staff report of the Residential Infill Project. It includes several recommendations intended to balance the need to create more housing in Portland while protecting the character of the city's established neighborhoods.

The public will be able to review and comment on the proposals at a series of open houses that start on June 15.

The project was launched last year by Mayor Charlie Hales in response to growing complaints the increasing number of existing homes being demolished and replaced with larger, more expensive houses that do not fit into their surroundings. He charged the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability with addressing the issue. It was assisted by a 23-member Stakeholder Advisory Committee that includes neighborhood representatives, developers, preservationists, affordable housing advocates and a land use watchdog.

After nine month of work, the staff presented its report the committee last Tuesday. Most of the feedback was positive. Even the developers on the committee supported the size restrictions on new houses. But they want them tied to zoning changes that will allow the construction more more smaller houses and midsize multifamily homes in single-family neighborhoods.

"There's the opportunity to create more affordable housing here," said Vic Remmers, founder and owner of Everett Custom Homes.

Neighborhood representatives were more cautious. Although they support the size restrictions, they aren't convinced most Portlanders will be able to afford the additional housing that could be created.

"It's a reasonable step forward, but there are no [cost] numbers," said Barbara Strunk of the grassroots United Neighborhood for Reform.

Affordable housing shapes discussion

The comments represent a split that emerged on the committee in recent months. As housing affordability has become a bigger issue in Portland, the developers have joined with those concerned about rising home prices and preserving the urban growth boundary to accept size restrictions in exchange for the ability to build more homes. Some called it "the grand bargain" during the meeting.

The neighborhood representatives have argued that even smaller homes won't necessarily be inexpensive — and could still undermine the character of existing neighborhoods. Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association representative Rod Merrick denied that any bargain had been agreed to.

During the meeting, project manager Morgan Tracy said some of the pressure to increase residential densities was coming from the City Council. A majority of the council sponsored an amendment to the upcoming Comprehensive Plan update calling for the construction of more so-called "missing middle" and alternative housing, including duplexes, triplexes, four-plexes, small apartments, accessory dwelling units, and cottages clustered around a common area. The staff report recommends changing the zoning to allow such housing near designated urban centers and along major transportation corridors.

Some of those supporting increased densities thought the allowable areas were too restrictive, noting that much of east Portland was excluded from the proposed zoning changes.

"We have a severe housing shortage. There could be a lot more opportunities," said Remmers.

Some of the neighborhood representatives balked at going beyond the designated areas, however.

"I'm opposed to opening it up to the entire city," said Strunk

Pressure to increase densities

The Residential Infill Project is unfolding as 123,000 more housing unit are projected to be built in Portland over the next 20 years. Although most will be apartments in designated centers and along traffic corridors, 20 percent the Comprehensive Plan expected to be approved by the City Council calls for 20 percent of them to be built in neighborhoods currently zoned for single-family home.

Oversized houses are currently being built in existing neighborhoods because city codes allow much larger homes than many other cities. Forty years ago, the typical Portland house averaged 1,660. By 2013, the largest homes averaged 4,461 square feet, which was still smaller than the maximum 6,750 allowed on the biggest lots.

Project staff is recommending new rules to reduce the maximum allowable size to 2,500 square feet. Other recommendations would reduce the maximum heights and increase the setback on new houses, too.

Staff recommendations also call for allowing multifamily housing to be built in single family neighborhoods within one-quarter mile of centers and corridors. They could be no larger than the new restrictions on single family homes.

And the staff is recommending new rules for so-called "skinny lot" development, including banning garages that face the streets in such houses.

Most of the recommendations are supported by a majority of the Stakeholder Advisory Committee. Some of those in the minority representing neighborhood interests say Mayor Charlie Hales stacked the committee with developers and affordable housing and land use advocators from the start.

Maps, illustrations and diagrams of the staff recommendations will be presented at five open houses over the summer. The first one will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15, at the Multnomah Arts Center, 7688 S.W. Capitol Highway. To see the rest of the schedule and learn more, visit portlandoregon.gov/bps/infill.

Open houses set for summer

The Residential Infill Project has scheduled a series of open houses this summer so the public can learn more about it and give feedback to the staff on the following topics:

1. Reducing the size of houses. Should Portland’s single-dwelling rules for height, lot coverages, setbacks be changed and to what extent?

2. Increasing the range of housing types. What is the feasibility and appropriateness of introducing more accessory dwelling units, duplexes and triplexes to single-dwelling zones?

3. Historically narrow lots. What are the appropriate lot dimensions for new development on historically narrow lots and what locations should it be allowed?

The schedule is as follows:

Multnomah Arts Center, 7688 S.W. Capitol Highway, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 15

Tabor Space, Copeland Commons, 5541 S.E. Belmont St., 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 28.

Historic Kenton Firehouse, 8105 N. Brandon Ave., 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 6.

East Portland Neighborhood Office, 1017 N.E. 117th Ave., 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 13.

German American Society, 5626 N.E. Alameda St., 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 14.

During the same period, feedback also will be sought through an online open house.

To learn more, visit portlandoregon.gov/bps/infill.

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