Multnomah fights multi-unit housing policies
The Multnomah Neighborhood Association has been one of the most vocal detractors of the Residential Infill project — a change in zoning policy passed by the Portland City Council in 2016 — and believes its implementation would tarnish the character of its community.
Now, it's taking action to thwart the policy.
Of the 18 objections to Task Four and Task Five of the 2035 Comprehensive Plan sent to the Oregon Department of Land Conservations, five were delivered by the MNA and others were filed by individual Southwest Portland residents. MNA's objections were rejected, however, so the group recently sent another round to the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission, which will likely review the objections in March.
If the objections are rejected again and the association can raise enough money through its land use fund, MNA member Martie Sucec says the MNA will take its case to court.
"We're going to go all the way to the (Oregon) Court of Appeals if we raise the money, and we think we can," she said. "We're not the only ones upset about this, although we're probably the most vocal."
The Residential Infill Project is designed to increase density in Portland in order to accommodate marked population growth. The plan allows more duplex development and triplex development on corners in designated areas throughout Portland — including Multnomah Village and much of Southwest Portland. It also decreases home sizes for new developments and adds other regulations to foster density.
The association objects to both the public process and the regulations of the multi-unit housing policies.
The appeals letter, crafted with the help of Fodor & Associates, states: "Based on a review of the record for Periodic Review of the Comprehensive Plan, the City of Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) has failed to adequately inform Portland residents about the nature, magnitude, and consequences of its efforts to conduct an overhaul and up-designation of City's residentially-zoned single-family homes to allow infill beyond any actual identified housing need. The BPS has also failed to provide complete, objective, and balanced public information about their proposal."
Along with Residential Infill Project objections, the MNA also questioned the comprehensive plan's proposed rezoning of the Multnomah Village neighborhood center to a CM2 designation, which would allow for more mixed-use commercial development, and to the neighborhood's designation as a neighborhood center rather than a neighborhood corridor.
As for the public process, the association believes the multi-unit housing policy was added to the comprehensive plan hastily and violated the City's Community Involvement Work Program, which states that "reports containing the facts and reasons necessary to make particular decisions will be available at least 21 days before any Planning and Sustainability Commission or City Council hearing."
"It was introduced at the last moment with minimal public involvement," Eben Fodor of Fodor & Associates said.
"There were guarantees throughout the process that (multi-unit housing) wouldn't be a part of it, and less than a month before, we saw it in the middle of a list of 200 amendments. They want to radically zone whole swaths of the city without public discussion," an MNA member said.
A couple of the DLDC's rejections of the association's objections about the public process states that the City reported facts pertaining to the housing policy 27 days prior to the public hearing, more than the 21 day requirement, and provided "findings and conclusions based on substantial evidence" as reasons for the policy's adoption.
Sucec believes Multnomah already has enough multi-unit housing to accommodate some added density and that the City should react when a housing deficiency in the area arises, not proactively legislate assuming problems are on the horizon.
"So now to make every house up for multi-unit housing, it could potentially wipe out the neighborhood, the single-family neighborhood. And maybe that's the way it should be in 2035. But it should be a transition with decent infrastructure and transportation," Sucec said.
Sucec says the a-overlay, which is the zone that would allow for more dense development, is too widespread and that housing policy should be more neighborhood-specific. Another MNA member agrees, although she isn't sure how to best address Portland's booming population, housing deficiency and skyrocketing prices.
"I think people who don't make a lot of money are being priced out of Portland. And people who are barely hanging on are being put on the streets. People who don't have high incomes and big wallets are having a harder time. I don't know what the solution is," one MNA member said.
Fodor accepts the fact that Portland's population is increasing rapidly but isn't certain growth will continue for the foreseeable future.
"It's not clear how long that growth spurt will continue, and clearly housing hasn't kept up in demand. I think there's a market imbalance that is going on right now. I question whether the answer is to rezone single-family neighborhoods," he said.
MNA members were not persuaded by the DLDC's rejection of their objections.
"It's pretty disjointed. I've read it a couple times and my blood pressure goes up in some places. They don't address our issues in some places. In some places they have an absolute right to say, 'We reject that.' I disagree that it's a good idea, but it's a real dialogue in some sense," Sucec said.
Sucec isn't positive if Multnomah will be able to raise enough money to go to the Oregon Court of Appeals but is happy with the donations the MNA's land use fund has received recently.
"I'm not surprised. I have a good sense of the neighborhood, but I'm gratified. I'm surprised we've had such a fast response," she said.
However, several residents who spoke with the Connection aren't optimistic that their appeals will thwart the policies they detest.
"I'm trying to be optimistic about it. It's very disappointing that the DLDC rejected all appeal issues. That's unfortunate, and I think the LCDC, the commission that guides the department, they're a little more independent and may be more sympathetic to our appeal," Fodor said. "There's some things working against us, and one is a lot of time is going by. That's unfortunate, but certainly not our fault. The City has had a year and a half of delay."
At the core of the MNA's frustrations is a sense that the City of Portland is not listening to them and casting them aside.
Sucec believes the association is unfairly written off as "Nimbys," which is a term used to denigrate those who are against development, and believes such detractors are committing a philosophical fallacy called ad hominem by attacking them as people rather than the contents of their argument.
She also believes their views are less extreme than how they're sometimes characterized.
"One of the things that offends me and pains me at the same time is that this issue has been reduced to those that want this infill housing and those that don't — polar opposites, as if there's nothing in between. And Multnomah is a very in-between place," she said. "And the minute we raise an issue like 'Lets have single-family zones that are strictly' that and 'Let's have other places that have multiple units,' they call us names."