October 7, 2016

Portland Planning Commission Proposes Downzoning Neighborhood Amidst Housing Crisis


Portland, OR – A year ago, the City of Portland declared a housing emergency. However, the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission recently recommended downzoning a significant portion of the Historic Alphabet District. Based off of a recommendation from the Northwest District Association, the zone will go from a 4-to-1 Floor to Area Ratio (“FAR”) to a 2-to-1 FAR, essentially reducing the possible height of new buildings from a maximum of four stories to a maximum of two.


The claim is that the reduction in FAR is to keep new buildings in line with the aesthetic of the neighborhood. However, the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission already reviews new projects within the Historic Alphabet District to assess whether the project is in line with the aesthetic of the community, so an outright reduction in the number of stories allowed for new projects is unnecessary.


If passed, this re-zoning will undermine efforts to create more affordable housing in the city by reducing the potential supply.


Here are some quotes for you to use:


“The Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission recommends removing over 2 million square feet of potential housing from the Alphabet Historic District in Northwest Portland. The proposal, which is part of the 2035 Comprehensive Plan, affects the equivalent of 27 blocks currently zoned for high-density housing. The square footage allowed on these properties would be cut in half, and thousands of apartments may not be built. If the City Council approves the recommendation, the city’s Measure 49 exposure could easily exceed $30 million. Thus far, city planning staff has been quiet about the fiscal impact to the city budget.” –Jordan Ramis Attorney Ed Trompke (From his 9/21/2016 Dirt Alert that went to Jordan Ramis Newsletter Subscribers)


“I am writing today to raise a flag of concern that a series of decisions under development or pending before the City have the potential, when viewed collectively, to reduce the amount of housing that we can expect to be produced in Portland…. Proposed height limits and FAR reductions in historic districts such as the Alphabet District or Irvington will additionally impact development potential in the Central City” –Metro Regional Government Chief Operating Officer Martha Bennett (From her 8/8/2016 letter to the Portland Planning Commission)


And here are some resources if you want to dive in deeper:


Ed Trompke Dirt Alert




Memo on Floor Area Ratio to Planning and Sustainability Commission (includes Martha Bennett’s letter)



August 23 Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission Meeting – Jump to 4:01:25



The 2035 Comprehensive Plan



Charlie Hales Announcement




Jordan Ramis PC (www.jordanramis.com) was established in 1963 and has offices in Oregon and Washington.  Jordan Ramis represents clients throughout the western United States in business law, local government law, litigation and dispute resolution, and Dirt Law® (real estate, environmental, land use, and construction law).

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