We are in year 3 of Portland’s Comprehensive Plan process, which is almost 5 years late, mostly due to Portland’s famous “process.” The good news is that process provided Eliot with the opportunity to shape the Plan in more favorable ways. I will end with the bad news.
Comp Plans are required under State law to accommodate projected housing and employment growth for the next 20 years. Portland’s last plan was adopted in 1993 and a LOT has changed since then; much in ways that were not expected as regards development in Eliot. The “old” plan included separate plans for inner N/NE (the Albina Plan) as well as an Eliot Neighborhood plan. Both of these were developed by the community but to conform to the City’s overall planning goals. The prior plan and the City’s vision for Eliot were as a warehousing district, rather than a residential neighborhood. In contrast, the Eliot plan reduced density (“downzoned”) the area “south” (of Russell) Eliot and emphasized preservation of the historic residential areas in exchange for higher density and mixed-use development along north-south corridors. Those zones allow much taller and denser development along Williams and Vancouver than was expected, as is now evident.
The pending “new” Comp Plan is using the development pattern at Williams and Fremont and along Division, Hawthorne and Belmont as a model for all future development. The plan designates selected areas as “centers” where tall, dense mixed-use development will be focused. In theory, this will allow adjacent properties to retain existing low-density zoning to the neighborhood character can be maintained. This will create “15 minute” neighborhoods where residents in single family homes can walk to “centers” to shop and work. The “new” plan proposes a “center” that incorporates Mississippi, Williams and MLK (see dash line on map). It also incorporates Eliot’s request that our Historic Conservation District be further protected by downzoning it further to discourage demolition of historic homes for more infill. That is the area on the map that is light gray and are outside the dashed line. The Plan expects this “center” to accommodate at least 6,000 new housing units (9,000 to 15,000 new people).
One bright spot in the “new” plan is that public reaction to the new, dense development has been uniformly opposed. So the zoning that allows that development is changing. Instead of twelve “commercial” zones that allow buildings between 2 and 8 stories, 4 new “mixed use” zones are proposed. Eliot is likely to have zoning along Williams, Vancouver and MLK that will allow buildings as tall as 7 stories, but only if they include affordable housing. If they do not, height will be limited to 4 stories. In either case, new buildings will have to step-down if they are adjacent to residential areas, so there will be no more of what was built along Williams overlooking the back yard of an historic bungalow.
Now the bad news; the new Plan provides some important protections for Eliot as it exists and most of us want it to continue. However, these changes won’t be implemented until after the Plan is adopted by City Council sometime in or after next February. The Plan won’t be official until the State agrees to it. That is expected to take another year, assuming it does agree, longer if it doesn’t. As a consequence, the current zoning that allows buildings as tall as 100 feet remains and developers will continue to trade our history and neighborhood character for quick profits.