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Many city residents are split over how much rezoning is necessary to create more housing options and accommodate the 123,000 new households expected here by 2035

The City Council will debate how much of Portland's existing single-family neighborhoods to rezone for higher densities on Wednesday.

That is when the council is scheduled to consider the recommendations prepared by the staff on the Residential Infill Project for the final time this year. The most controversial one would rezone nearly two-thirds of single-family neighborhoods to allow the construction of so-called missing middle housing, ranging from duplexes and cottage clusters

Many city residents are split over how much rezoning is necessary to create more housing options and accommodate the 123,000 new households expected here by 2035.

During three previous public hearings, supporters testified in favor of the rezoning proposal. They included members of the group Portland for Everyone, which is supported by the 1000 Friends of Oregon land use watchdog organization. But many homeowners and neighborhood activists said the proposal would destroy the character of existing neighborhoods without guaranteeing that the new housing will be affordable. They included members of the grassroots United Neighborhoods for Reform organization.

Under an unusual process, the council is expected to send the recommendations back to the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability — which staffed the project — with directions for how to draft them into City Code changes. They would be considered by the Planning and Sustainability Commission, which advises BPS, before returning to the council for final action.

Commissioner Steve Novick says he supports the recommendations and will advocate the staff proceed with few if any changes. The current recommendation would allow multi-family housing within one-quarter mile of designated urban centers, corridors with frequent bus service and high capacity transit, and in housing opportunity areas, such as near parks and schools.

"Some of my colleagues have asked whether that much of the city needs to be rezoned; I think there may need to be some clarification about that, so people understand it better," Novick says.

But Commissioner Nick Fish, who has questioned the size of the area proposed to be rezoned, thinks one-eighth mile might be more reasonable. He is also interested in testing the rezoning in just a few neighborhoods first.

"Commissioner Fish is concerned that the current report has not presented the council with enough implimentation options to consider," says Fish assistant Jim Blackwood, who says his boss will submit amendments to address his concerns.

Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz did not say whether they were considering submitting amendments. Commissioner Dan Saltzman is not.

Whatever the council decides on Wednesday may not be supported when it returns next year. That is because the council will have two different members — State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, who will succeed Hales as mayor on Jan. 1, and small business owner Chloe Eudaly, who defeated Novick in the November general election. Although Wheeler has called for the construction of new homes that cost less than the large ones currently being built in most infill projects, he has not come out for or against any of the project's specific recommendations. Eudaly has said the construction of housing for homeless and low-income people should be the city's top priority.

Project recommendations would also limit the size of new houses in Portland to 2,500 square feet, with some allowances. According to the report prepared by the project staff, older homes in Portland are typically about 1,500 square feet. Current city codes allow new homes to be 6,750 square feet. During the hearings, several council members wondered whether 2,500 square feet was the right size for new homes, but none of them proposed a different figure.

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