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TLC Farm, friends push for new codes

The main goal of Re-Code Portland is to change the 'one size fits all' codes and ordinances in the city
by: Cliff Newell, Brenna Bell of Tryon Life Community Farm and  friends of the cooperative farm community are gearing up to try to Re-Code Portland.

Brenna Bell has found that Tryon Life Community Farm will have a lot of friends when it comes to Re-Code Portland.

The crusade to make city codes and zoning regulations more amenable to smaller sustainability projects had a public meeting on Jan. 17, and the large, enthusiastic outpouring of support made Bell highly optimistic that Portland really can be re-coded.

'There were natural builders, contractors, homeowners, the Portland Peak Oil Task Force, a whole gamut of people,' said Bell, president of the board of directors of Tryon Farm, which sits right at the doorstep of Lake Oswego on Boones Ferry Road. 'Even some enthusiastic people from Albany.

'Re-Code Portland is going to be the voice for the grassroots. So far there have been organizations for people who do big sustainability projects, but not for people who want to do smaller projects.'

The main goal of Re-Code Portland is to change the 'one size fits all' codes and ordinances that inhibit individual landowners or small organizations that 'don't have a big pot of cash.'

For example, current policies prohibit Tryon Farm from building its own composting toilets. Instead, the staff had to fork out $1,700 each for several toilets that met state plumbing codes.

Another roadblock: the city of Portland will charge the farm $20,000 to review and approve its proposed master land-use plan.

'As it stands now it's easier to build a poorly built, energy inefficient home than it is to build a well thought-out, closed loop home that benefits the environment,' Bell said. 'We're asking, 'Why is that?''

Bell has already found lots and lots of sympathy for this position.

'City councilors, county commissioners, state representatives, bureaucracy people, the Portland Office of Sustainable Development, all of them agree this is the direction we need to go,' Bell said. 'We just need to stay at the table and do the work.'

Some of the big players in Portland area sustainability are also on board, including SERA Architects and the Cascadia Green Building Council.

The only naysayer to this project was Willamette Week, which saddled Tryon Farm with the unlikely label of 'Rogue of the Week' for supposedly seeking to recode Portland strictly for its own benefit.

When Bell was informed of this by a TLCF staff members she was told 'don't worry. It's even funny.' Especially funny to Bell was one of the many supportive public responses to the article: 'Are you crazy? These people are doing great work.'

'Re-Code Portland is going to benefit a whole lot of people,' Bell said. 'We don't want to be a little pocket of paradise out here. That's not sustainable.'

Now, Re-Code Portland is getting down to business. Committees have been formed to focus on each segment of the campaign: research on current zoning, pathways to change zoning, identifying practices the group wants to see changed - affecting everything from graywater to treehouses to thermal mass heating.

Bell's own committee is right down her line: Public education, outreach and lobbying.

This is a huge effort, but it's nothing to daunt a Tryon Farm staff that had to overcome huge obstacles to even make the seven-acre farm come into existence. The sense of commitment is there. Bell, a lawyer, has given the farm a highly effective public voice. She also gets up early every morning to milk goats and teaches classes for children.

Bell believes that Re-Code Portland will eventually succeed. What concerns her is how long that will take.

'It is going to take years to do everything,' Bell said. 'Things move slowly when you're dealing with the government.

'But we're running out of time. We're approaching a new era of energy availability. We need to create a framework for a more sustainable approach for our lives.'

For more information about Tryon Life Community Farm and Re-Code Portland, go to the Web site www.tryonfarm.org .