Comprehensive plan will provide guide for accommodating next growth wave

by: COURTESY PORTLAND BUREAU OF PLANNING AND SUSTAINABILITY - By 2035, the intersection of Southeast 122nd and Division is transformed with high capacity transit, landscaping, prominent bike and pedestrian crossings, and more housing and food options, as shown in this artist's rendering from the proposed draft Comprehensive Plan.Imagine a Portland of the not-too-distant future with 200,000 more residents inside the city limits, living in 120,000 new housing units.

Such growth is what city officials are expecting in the next 20 years, and they further expect that these hordes of new residents will reside mostly in new apartments and condominiums concentrated in downtown, close-in neighborhoods, the Gateway area of Southeast Portland and along major roads served by transit. According to this vision of the future, even neighborhoods that don't see much growth will be better connected with new sidewalks, bike lanes and more transit service.

At least, that's what the officials hope will happen if the City Council approves the Comprehensive Plan update currently working its way through a years-long planning process. The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability released a proposed draft of the update last week. Planners will seek comment in coming months through public forums and an online application called a Map App that allows Portlanders to zero in on potential changes within a quarter mile of specific addresses.

"The update is not saying how much Portland should or shouldn't grow, but how much it's expected to grow," says Joe Zehnder, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability's chief planner.

If the proposed update is enacted, Zehnder and other BPS officials say many of the most visible changes will take place in the Central City, where 33,000 new housing units will be built. Another 3,957 will go into the Gateway area. Many of the rest will be spread along such major transportation corridors as Southwest Barbur, North Lombard, Southeast Division, Northeast Sandy and 122nd Avenue in east Portland.

Big changes also are expected in large and small centers throughout the city where housing, employment, retail and entertainment opportunities will be located within easy walking or biking distance. They will include the neighborhoods along Southeast Belmont, Hawthorne and Division west of Mount Tabor, where much development is already occurring.

The vast majority of the city, however, will not be changed much by the plan, including the large tracts of single family homes away from major roads. In fact, current density levels in parts of Southwest and Southeast Portland are recommended to be lowered — because of the changing housing market and also to protect the environment.

On the employment front, planners expect Portland to gain 142,000 jobs over the next 20 years. Of that total, 50,000 are projected for the Central City and 3,924 are forecast for the Gateway area. The plan would create a new designation for large employment campuses, such as schools and hospitals.

Currently, the city is trying to close a 600-acre gap in the amount of land needed for the additional 32,000 industrial jobs that are anticipated. Options include redeveloping part of West Hayden Island, a proposal that has stalled, and convincing the state to help pay to clean up contaminated properties known as brownfields.

Plan in the making for years

The public cost of implementing the proposed comprehensive update has not been estimated because many of the most important decisions have yet to be made. For example, the Portland Bureau of Transportation is still updating its list of priority transportation projects. The current list still includes such outdated proposals as the Columbia River Crossing, which died after the 2013 Washington Legislature failed to fund its share. The Bureau of Transportation is not expected to submit its new list to the council for approval until November.

This is the first update since the Comp Plan, as it is called, was adopted by the council in 1980. It is required by state land use planning policies to show how the city will accommodate population and job increases projected by Metro, the elected regional government that represents the urbanized portions of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties. Metro has told Portland it should expect to be home to roughly half the 400,000 or so people projected to move to the tri-county area over the next two decades.

Work on the update started under former Mayor Tom Potter with the Vision PDX project. It continued under former Mayor Sam Adams with the adoption of the Portland Plan, which included broad policies for the update to follow, such as encouraging more neighborhoods with all basic services available within a 20-minute walk.

Several other regional and city plans are incorporated in the update, including Metro's 2040 Concept and Portland's Climate Action Plan, Economic Development Strategy, Parks 2020 Vision and Watershed Management Plan.

Several city bureaus have dedicated staffers to the update for the past three years. It will now be considered by the volunteer citizen Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission, which is expected to send its recommended version to the council by the end of the year. The council then would take it up next spring.

Since this is the first time the Comp Plan has been updated since 1980, it is difficult to know whether it will really be followed. Metro and the council have approved numerous plans over the past 34 years intended to guide development, and not all of them have worked. Successes include the Pearl District and South Waterfront. Not much growth has occurred in Hillsdale, however, which has been designated a town center. And parts of Northeast Alberta Street and North Mississippi Avenue have grown much faster than planners envisioned.

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