City kicks off projects to implement recommendations for improving the design overlay zone

The DOZA acronym originally stood for Design Overlay Zone Assessment — a project that took a look at streamlining the city's tools for development procedures.

However, the 'A' now stands for Amendments, as the city moves to implement the recommendations found by consultant Walker Macy in a nearly year-long study for the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and the Bureau of Development Services.SOURCE: BDS - Portlands design overlay gets an update with the DOZA package.

"Fifty to sixty thousand more people will call the Central City home in 20 years," said BPS Director Susan Anderson. "Design review can help us protect vibrant neighborhoods, but it can't be a burden."

The Portland City Council voted to accept the report in April, authorizing the two bureaus to implement the recommendations.

"My priority clearly is more housing supply sooner, at a lower cost, with less of a hassle factor while not creating garbage that we're stuck with for 100 years," said Mayor Ted Wheeler.

DOZA is sponsored by Wheeler and Commissioner Chloe Eudaly.

"I'm unsurprisingly very concerned with how we are affecting development, specifically development of affordable housing," Commissioner Eudaly said. "Certainly, our intention is to streamline and accelerate this process."

DOZA details

With the advent of the building boom changing Portland's skyline from a smaller city to a good-sized medium, the permitting procedure was bogged down. Critics say it effectively reduced the amount of new developments — and therefore residential units during the housing crisis — while simultaneously racking up extra fees and charges for developers.

The DOZA amendments will update the city's codes, standards and guidelines related to the design overlay zone.

The design overlay, a zoning tool that sends projects within its boundaries to the city's design commission review process, is intended to point architecture toward high-quality designs for specific cultural, historic or scenic areas with new growth.

Currently, the design overlay covers most of the Central City and Gateway, along with many main streets, town centers and inner corridors — in total, nearly 40 percent of the city's mixed-use zones. The DOZA amendments are aimed to improve design review tools and processes, helping much-needed new developments for housing and jobs be permitted and built faster.

There are three main projects in the DOZA package ready to be implemented: the DOZA process, DOZA tools and DOZA administration.

The process amends the zoning code, updating how the design overlay works. It will adjust the thresholds for design reviews so that not as many smaller-scale projects will have to go through, improve public notice requirements and realign the city's design review process with the applicants' design process — in the past, critics have complained that the review asked architects for construction documents during the hearings that would be a waste of time and money to create before the designs were approved.

A subcommittee group is being assembled to discuss better ways to align the design review with the private processes, and staff is also working on a beta test of the alignment as well as improving the design advice request process and submittals.

Two primary tools will be rewritten in the process: the objective design standards and discretionary design guidelines. Critics have said the discretionary guidelines leave it up to design commissioners to nitpick or make expensive changes. The new standards and guidelines are expected to be finalized in the summer of 2019, after more input from the public and a professional consultant.

The design advice request and submittal process improvements are already 75 percent complete, and the design guideline matrix for the advice requests and land use is 95 percent complete. Staff is also being increased.

The administrative level changes are an ongoing effort at the BDS, working toward better efficiency. It includes ideas like increasing staff capacity, managing design commission meetings more effectively and using the new tools to facilitate commission deliberation.

Staff equity training, quarterly professional development tours to experience other cities' commissions (such as in Seattle, Gresham and San Francisco), conferences, facilitation and leadership training and professional development have already been implemented as far as staff training, and BDS/BPS coordination and commission training packets are in the works.

Strategies to manage commission meetings more effectively are already in place: a senior supervisor is added to the staff table at all hearings, real start times are added to the agenda for each hearing item, a color-coded timer is set for all testifiers including staff presentations, there are design commission leadership meetings now with the chair and vice chair, there will be an annual city attorney refresher at the first hearing every year and there is already facilitation training for chairs and commission staff. Soon, the staff, public and commission will provide better procedure visuals, a process which has already begun.

Next, city staff will release the public discussion draft of the DOZA process this November. Staff plans to hold several public outreach meetings and an event, seeking public input.

"Everything is a work-in-progress at this point," said Kathryn Hartinger, DOZA Coordinator with the BDS. "The Discussion Draft of the DOZA Process Project, which will update things like the purpose statement and thresholds — and propose some changes to better align the Type III design review process with the applicant's process — will be out in November."

Community meetings are being schedules for November, December and January along with an open house connected with the release of the discussion draft, but the dates aren't set in stone yet.

By Jules Rogers
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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