Land Use 101

The NE Quadrant planning process is part of the Central City Plan, which is part of the longer term Comprehensive Plan.  Each of these plans are required by State law and need to be updated every 20 to 25 years.  Now that the transportation component of the Quadrant plan is ending, the land use component will wrap up over the summer.  This will only cover Eliot land use issues in Lower Albina and along Broadway.  The rest of Eliot (and the City) will be covered in the Comp Plan, due in two years.

There is a lot of confusion about how land use planning works, so I offer this primer to prepare Eliot News readers for future columns discussing plan changes.

Planning in Portland is required by state law as well as City and Metro policy.  It is implemented in Portland through zoning.  The major zones in Eliot are Residential (R), Industrial (E and I), Commercial (C), and Institutional for the Hospital.

Lower Albina is primarily in the I zone.  This zone limits use to industrial and commercial.  Residential uses generally aren’t allowed.

The EG and EX zones are supposed to be “Employment” zones.  EX is more flexible than EG, and allows a full range of uses from light industrial to residential.  Eliot adopted EX zones in the last Comp Plan (the 1993 Albina Plan) to protect existing businesses and to provide for new ones.  Unfortunately, the flexibility allowed in EX zones has led to it being used for religious institutions and low-income housing, which do not provide wealth creating employment.  The EX zone is being used on North Williams for high-rise housing.  The proposed New Seasons store is in an EX zone, as will be the planned high rise house on that lot by Cook Street.  The bulk of the EX zoned property in Eliot is south of Stanton to Broadway along MLK.  Much of this land has buildings and commercial uses already; however, housing has been proposed for some of the vacant lots, and more housing proposals are likely.  Building height is limited to 65 feet.

The Residential zone dominates the rest of Eliot.  Residential zones have a unit density requirement, unlike other zones.  The least dense R zone in Eliot is R2.  A typical Eliot lot is 50 by 125, or 6,250 SF and therefore 3 units are required.  These units can be individual structures, of “flats” with units stacked atop each other.  Building heights are limited to 40 feet, although heating and cooling equipment on rooftops can exceed this limit.  The east side of North Williams is mostly R1 zoning, which requires 1 unit for every 1,000 SF of lot area.  Taller (65 feet) buildings are allowed as is less landscaping and smaller margins next to other lots.  Most of the lots along MLK north of Stanton are zoned RH, a high density multi-family zone.  Twice as many units are expected in this zone than in R1, but the maximum number of units is determined by “Floor Area Ratio” or FAR.  As a result, 6 to 8 units could be constructed on 1,000 SF of a standard lot, leaving room for surface parking.  The most intensive residential zone is RX.  The blocks between Morris and Cook, between Vancouver and Williams are zoned RX.  At least 100  units per acre are expected in the RX zone, buildings up to 100 feet area allowed but building size and height is also controlled by FAR.  At present, these three blocks have scattered vacant lots, but are otherwise developed.  Most of the existing structures are historic or serve civic purposes, so hopefully we will not see them developed.  Both RH and RX zoned property are expected to be developed with mass transit in mind; in other words, no or limited parking.  Because Eliot is well served with mass transit, parking is not required with any residential development.

Property along Broadway is mostly zoned CX or “commercial”.  Building heights are limited by FAR as well as by explicit limits, although these vary depending on location; central city versus elsewhere.

In addition to these “base” zones, there are “overlay” zones that modify the base zone.  Most of Eliot is covered by a “design” or “d” overlay.  The residential zone also has an “a” overlay that allows additional units that are “accessory” to the main structure.  These are restricted in size so they don’t become a back door to more units than allowed in the base zone.  The code also includes “bonus” provisions in some areas that not only “allow” but encourage higher density and height.

Hopefully, this information will help understand some of the changes that are being proposed for land use in Eliot in the Quadrant and Comp Plans.