Planning Eliot

The Comprehensive Plan process continues. The second round of plan comments ended December 31. The Comp Plan, as it is called, is a 20-year blueprint for how the City of Portland envisions its growth and development in the upcoming two decades. It will affect how all of Portland’s neighborhoods and streets evolve, especially close in neighborhoods like Eliot. Some of the plan’s outlines were already agreed upon in the NE Quadrant Plan that was covered in the Eliot News previously. That two year effort proposed a number of changes to zoning along Broadway and into Eliot and west of Williams south of Russell.

The Eliot Land Use and Transportation Committee (LUTC) is taking advantage of this once -every 20-year opportunity to review the existing Eliot Plan and evaluate the need for zone changes and other modifications. City staff are also considering zone and plan changes for Eliot, some of which may transform the neighborhood from an historic enclave to an inner city version of Northwest Portland. This is evident in the high rise, no parking apartment blocks along Williams north of Fremont and proposed for the area around New Seasons. The in-fill construction evident throughout Eliot is another example. Many of the new in-fill projects fit in to the neighborhood, despite their “historic” design and “skinny” house and townhouse (duplex) style. However, some developers have gone out of their way to cram too many units on each lot eliminating rear and side yards as well as privacy for adjacent properties.

In response, the Eliot Board and LUTC are evaluating some zone and other changes that we hope will better preserve Eliot’s historic character, assuming Eliot residents and City Council think that is a priority over increased development density. The existing Eliot Plan was adopted by City Council in 1993. Although Planning staff largely ignored it, the Eliot Plan envisioned MLK as the revitalized commercial street it once was, with a mix of retail and commercial uses at street level with apartments on upper levels of 3 to 5 story buildings. It also emphasized preservation of Eliot’s historic residential area through the Eliot Historic Conservation District, which doesn’t provide the same level of protection as a “true” Historic District such as was recently adopted in Irvington. There does not seem to be sufficient support for “historic district” status for Eliot among residents and the many absentee land owners. Residents are concerned about the additional costs and restrictions, especially after hearing some of the stories from Irvington neighbors. That leaves few options to protect Eliot’s historic homes and character from developers interested only in profit.

One action the LUTC is considering is using the Comp Plan to request zoning changes to better preserve Eliot and to stimulate development along MLK. The last Comp Plan changed zoning for many vacant parcels along MLK from “commercial” to residential. Most of the residential development that occurred since has been for subsidized housing and most of it lacks storefront shops.

The LUTC is proposing replacement of the exclusive “residential” zones with a new “mixed use” zone Planning staff are developing as part of the Comp Plan. This is not expected to be controversial. On the other hand, the LUTC is exploring a request to reduce the allowed development density in Eliot’s core residential areas from 1 unit per 2,000 square feet of lot area to 1 per 2,500. This change from R2 to R2.5 will make zoning in Eliot the same as it is everywhere else in NE Portland. The R2.5 zone guides developers to position new homes along the sidewalk rather than tucked in behind and therefore preserves the back yards desired both by families and gardeners. This is the type of home most in-fill developers are building and generally the most profitable. However, there are developers who are only concerned with building as many units as possible. They care little for yard space or housing for families. Selling a lot or an older, smaller home in Eliot to one of these developers may be more profitable with the existing R2 zone than the proposed R2.5, but that really depends on what current and future Eliot residents’ value.

The Eliot Board and LUTC have heard from many residents that they don’t like having a new home right on their property line or their back yards invaded by dense development that affects their privacy and blocks sun to their gardens. They also object to designs that don’t respect Eliot’s historic character. If this is the majority opinion, the LUTC will continue with its proposal to change our residential zoning. You should expect to hear more about this in the spring.

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