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Council adds new hearing for controversial infill plan next Wednesday

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City Council adds third hearing on Residential Infill Project recommendations because of high public interest shown before and at the first one

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: STEVE LAW - Portlanders are split over whether to allow more smaller muliti-family housing units like these duplexes in single-family neighborhoods.Because of high public interest, the City Council has added a new evening hearing on the controversial proposal to limit new home sizes and rezone existing single family neighborhoods for more housing.

The proposal was developed by the staff of the Residential Infill Project created last year by Mayor Charlie Hales. It includes recommendations to restrict the mass of new homes built in the city, and to allow small multi-family projects to be built in two-thirds of the neighborhoods now zoned for one home on each lot. Many Portland residents have split over whether the recommendations will help the city grow or change the character of existing neighborhoods for the worse.

The new hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 16. It will follow the 2 p.m. hearing that day originally intended as the final one this year. After the last hearing, the council is expect to vote whether to send the recommendations to the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, which staffed the project, to be drafted into City Code amendments. The citizen Planning and Sustainability Commission that advises the bureau will then hold hearings on the amendments before deciding whether to recommend them to the council for final approval some time next year.

The council agreed to hold the new hearing at the end of the first one, which was held Wednesday afternoon. Too many people signed up to testify for all of them to speak before the council lost its quorum after about three hours. Those not able to testify will be allowed to speak before anyone new who signs up to testify at either the 2 p.m. or 6 p.m. hearing next Wednesday.

The council heard from many people on both sides of the issue at its Nov. 9 hearing — and from people who support some of the recommendations but not others. They included members of two organizations formed around such issues. One is Portland for Everyone, a project of the 1000 Friends of Oregon land use watchdog group that supports the recommendations. The other is United Neighborhoods for Reform, a grassroots organization that pushed for the Residential Infill Project, but which now opposes the recommendations.

The split was visible throughout the hearing. Many proposal supporters worse buttons that said, “I Heart Housing Choices.” Opponents carried signs that read, “Save Our Neighborhoods.”

Hales opened the first hearing by saying the recommendations are intended to ensure that “we save what we love about our city and build what we want to see.” Portland is projected to add around 123,000 new household by 2035, and the council is working to figure out where there should go.

Earlier this year, the council endorsed the idea of encouraging more so called missing middle housing in existing single family neighborhoods, including duplexes, triplexes, four-plexus, accessory dwelling units, small apartment buildings and cottage clusters.

During the hearing, affordable housing developer Eli Spevak said the recommendations would make Portland more livable by encouraging more housing choices that would cost less than the large infill homes currently being built.

“I think what you’ll see is a variety of housing types, which is what we need,” said Spevak, who is a member of both the Planning and Sustainability Commission and a stakeholders advisory committee formed to assist the Residential Infill Project.

But neighborhood activist and United Neighborhoods for Reform member Margaret Davis testified the recommendations will encourage more existing older homes to be demolished without guaranteeing that many residents can afford the replacements, even if they are smaller and accommodate multiple families.

“It promises more harm than good, and will further the loss of a valuable resources, which is affordable housing,” said Davis.

For a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue, go to tinyurl.com/zpmju9w.