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Metro: No boundary expansion this time

Comp Plan hearings start Thursday

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Infill housing will be a hot issue when the City Council holds its first hearing on the Comp Plan update Thursday.Last week the Metro Council voted to not expand the urban growth boundary which determines where new development can occur in the region.

This, despite the fact that 400,000 more people are expected to live and work within the boundary in the next 20 years.

This is the first time the council has not expanded the boundary during its regular review process. The council based its decision on calculations showing there is currently enough buildable land within the boundary to accommodate the projected growth, provided 123,000 additional housing units are built in Portland by 2035. The vast majority would be new apartment buildings.

Those calculations were challenged by the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland and others, which questioned whether Portland can really support that much increased density.

Mayor Charlie Hales supported the decision in a Sept. 21 letter to Metro. Now, on Thursday, the City Council will begin considering how to comply with it without sacrificing Portland’s highly touted livability. That is the when the first hearing on the updated Comprehensive Plan is scheduled. The Comp Plan — as it is commonly called — is a state-mandated land use document that shows where and how the city will grow over the next two decades.

After years of work, a recommended Comp Plan update was approved by the city Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC) and forwarded to the council in July. The PSC is composed of 10 Portland residents who oversee the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS), which drafted the pre-approved recommended update, based on its direction.

“Portland is a wonderful place to live because of the planning that has happened in the past. The Comp Plan update is intended to continue that and make it an even better place to live,” says BPS Director Susan Anderson.

The recommended update says 123,000 additional housing units can be built in Portland without harming livability, if 80 percent are in multifamily buildings constructed primarily in downtown, designated urban centers, and along major transportation corridors. The remaining 20 percent would be constructed in existing residential neighborhoods.

“Portland already has enough zoned capacity for that many more housing units. The update will help make sure most of them will be built in the right locations,” Anderson says.

The recommended update also says the city can support 140,000 new jobs over the next 20 years — including good-paying industrial jobs on redeveloped brownfields that are now contaminated.

Not everyone supports everything in the recommended update, however.

Infill, neighborhoods and jobs

Two neighborhood associations have been especially adamant in arguing that it will encourage too much infill development, destroying the character of their parts of town.

Representatives of the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association testified before the PSC that their zoning should be changed to prevent developers from replacing an existing house with two or more homes. Instead, the PSC recommended zoning changes that could increase density in the area. The association is already working with a lawyer on a legal challenge to that part of the update if it is approved by the council.

The Multnomah Neighborhood Association is opposed to the recommendation to designate the small retail center known as Multnomah Village as a Neighborhood Center, among other things. Representatives of the association argue it will encourage more dense commercial and residential development, changing the feel of the laid-back community in Southwest Portland.

Some business leaders also argue the plan will not create enough good paying jobs. Both the Portland Business Alliance and the Columbia Corridor Association believe the recommended draft overestimates the amount of industrial land that will be created through brownfield cleanup and the conversion of golf courses to industrial uses. The groups accuse the PSC of intentionally reducing the estimate of jobs to be created in the Portland Harbor to avoid recommending that West Hayden Island be redeveloped as a marine terminal by its owner, the Port of Portland.

“The Comp Plan tends to describe support for middle wage jobs, but then creates obstacles to achieve that job growth,” says CCA Director Corky Collier. “Voicing support for the middle class is not the same as actual support. Council should be aware that industrial businesses hire more middle wage minority employees than any other sector.”

Anderson says the recommended update identifies enough industrial land for the next 20 years. She says there are some disagreements about how much industrial employment growth has occurred in the past that the council will need to work through.

The council is not expected to vote on the recommended Comp Plan update until March 2016, at the earliest. After that, it must go to the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) for approval. The LCDC can remand it back to the council for additional work. It can also be challenged at the Land Use Board of Appeals and in the state appeals court.

Complicated process hinders plan progress

How complicated is the process leading up to the City Council approval of the Comprehensive Plan update? So complicated Mayor Charlie Hales gave it as one reason he does not have enough time to run for reelection.

The process is so complicated that a number of neighborhood coalition officials admitted they gave up trying to understand it, even though they have been helping other neighborhood leaders work their way through it.

The officials made their admissions last week during a monthly meeting of the chairs and directors of the seven Neighborhood Coalition Offices that serve the city’s 95 neighborhood associations. The officials met to prepare joint testimony on the Comp Plan process for the council when it holds its first hearing on it Nov. 19.

The group praised staff of the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) for being accessible and helpful and agreed the bureau has provided a robust public involvement process for the proposed update, including hundreds of meetings and a smartphone app for comment.

In fact, the state Land Conservation and Development Commission gave BPS an award for the citizen involvement portion of the process in March.

But members of the group also said the planning process was too long, overly complicated, and involved overlapping components — such as city quadrant plans and still-to-be-finalized zoning plans — whose relationships to one another are not clearly understood.

“You had to be either a professional planner or retired person who could devote all your time to the Comp Plan to understand it,” said one neighborhood official.

The members said BPS staff did not give them or other neighborhood representatives adequate feedback to their comments, calling the drafting of the proposed update a “black box” that left them baffled.

“I think that there was a general consensus that there has been a lack of connection between the process and the substance of the plan. So far, the plan has had a number of activities — some with excellent craft activities — but little actual public involvement. All in all, a form of adult day care,” says Robert McCullough, chair and president of the Southeast Uplift coalition office, who was at the meeting.

The discussion did not address the details of the proposed update, such as trying to ensure that most new housing be built downtown, in designated centers and along major transportation corridors over the next 20 years. Instead, it focused on the process of developing the proposal, which is what the officials were supposed to assist.

The group is now drafting a letter and preparing testimony that will be presented to the council on Thursday.

State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, who is running for mayor, attended the meeting at the invitation of McCullough. Afterward, Michael Cox, Wheeler’s campaign manager, said, “Ted has said you can’t govern Portland from the top down, but rather you have to do it from the grassroots up. It was a good meeting, very informative. It’s the beginning of a long conversation about delivering real progress in Portland.”

Comp Plan

hearing schedule

The City Council has scheduled the following public hearings on the recommend Comprehensive Plan update:

• Thursday, Nov. 19, 2-6 p.m., City Hall Council Chambers, 1221 S.W. Fourth Ave.

• Thursday, Dec. 3, 6-9 p.m., Mittleman Jewish Community Center, 6651 S.W. Capitol Highway.

• Thursday, Dec. 10, 6-9 p.m., Parkrose High School, 12003 N.E. Shaver St.

Additional hearings may be scheduled. A council vote could occur in March.

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