This Wednesday: Raise Your Voice to Protect Portland’s Neighborhoods


An internally converted duplex located in
Southeast Portland.
(Photo Courtesy of Michael Molinaro)

Update: City Council has extended the deadline to submit written testimony until Wednesday, November 23.

The City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) wants to respond to Portlanders’ concerns about changing neighborhoods citywide. The Residential Infill Project was initiated in the fall of 2015 to address growing pains related to demolitions, the size of infill homes, and housing affordability. For the past year, a Stakeholder Advisory Committee (on which Restore Oregon served), numerous public open houses, and online surveys were convened to engage Portlanders in the project.

Following the public comment period, on October 17th BPS released a Residential Infill Concept Report for City Council review. The report has 10 recommendations, which Restore Oregon feels are a mixed bag for historic preservation. The proposed Concept Report does not consider the neighborhoods of Portland separately, but proposes a slate of possible changes as a one-size-fits-all solution. Restore Oregon believes that neighborhoods across the city are not homogenous, but have unique characteristics that should be considered while planning for the future.

This Wednesday, November 16, is the last opportunity to provide comments to the City Council on the Concept Report. Testimony can be submitted in writing or verbally at 2pm or 6pm at City Hall. If testifying verbally, it is best to arrive early due to a high volume of individuals testifying.

Below is a menu of Restore Oregon’s concerns and recommendations:

Scale of Houses

The Concept Report highlights three areas aimed at curbing the scale of houses: Floor Area Ratio (FAR), lower rooflines, and setbacks to better match neighboring homes.  We support this generally, but take issue with its one-size-fits-all approach.

Restore Oregon recommendation:

  • Height limits and FAR maximums need context-specific standards for neighborhoods, rather than one solution for the entire city

Existing House Retention

The City’s own “Internal Conversion Report” demonstrates clearly that it is feasible to provide middle housing within our existing housing stock. The City Council must advance the recommendations of this report in a clear and meaningful way.


A 7-unit apartment internally converted in 2013 located
in Portland. (Photo Courtesy of Addam Goard)

Restore Oregon recommendations:

  • To incentivize retention, the City should waive systems development charges (SDCs) only for projects that keep an existing house
  • Lobby the State Building Codes Division to allow flexibility for internal conversions
  • Make changes to the Housing Overlay Zone to incentivize internal conversions

Housing Opportunity Overlay Zone

This will be a zone across the city that is within a quarter mile of transit, centers, and corridors which will allow diverse housing options such as duplexes, triplexes, cottage clusters, and ADUs –what has been coined as “middle housing”. Because much of Portland’s neighborhoods are within this quarter mile zoning proposal, it affects entire neighborhoods throughout the city. This will encourage demolitions without proper steps to ensure the retention of existing houses.

Restore Oregon recommendations:

  • Only allow new middle housing on sites with existing houses that are less than 50 years old or sites that have been vacant for five years.
  • Allow internal conversion of existing houses into multiple dwelling units citywide.
  • Allow for multiple detached ADUs, where appropriate, in conjunction with retention of an existing house

Design Control

Compatibility with the context of a neighborhood is crucial for new buildings to be successful, particularly so with middle housing. There needs to be context-specific design standards for infill to respond to and not diminish from its surroundings.

Restore Oregon recommendation:

  • Develop design standards and/or guidelines for infill that are responsive and favorable to existing houses and neighborhoods

    New duplexes in Southwest Portland designed in conformance
    with design guidelines. (Photo Courtesy of Addam Goard)

Narrow Lots

The Concept Report proposes allowing “historically narrow lots,” which are less than 36 feet wide. Today, any lots that are divided to less than this 36 feet can be developed only after being vacant for at least 5 years. The City is looking to take away this vacancy requirement and allow for narrow lots to be developed and even been reconfigured as flag lots, which would allow multiple housing units on an existing lot. This provides an enormous amount of demolition pressure on existing houses.

Restore Oregon recommendations:

  • Require the existing house (if any) on a lot to be retained for narrow lot development to occur
  • Narrow lot development needs to be coupled with design standards or guidelines to be compatible with existing houses and/or the neighborhood


Restore Oregon feels City Council has an opportunity to get the Concept Report right, providing a positive future for both Portland’s neighborhoods and its people. We highly encourage individuals to testify this Wednesday and inform City Council of possible amendments to the Concept Report.

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