Zoning in Eliot

Map of Zoning Changes expected to be effective 1/1/18
Zoning Changes expected to be effective 1/1/18.

It has been a boom and bust time recently on our committee.  Some months, we have nothing to talk about and others we are swamped with multiple development proposals.  Due to the rezoning proposal we pushed in Eliot, some properties have been rushing to get plans approved while others wait for the new zoning to take effect before starting their proposals. Portland’s Comprehensive Plan for 2035 (now in it’s 7th or 8th year of work) is going to be adopted January 1st and minor revisions to the zoning map are ongoing.  Recently, we have noted that a few proposed projects on North Williams have been stalled due to funding issues, but we will continue to see more large buildings going in in the future.

Portland’s zoning code is a fairly prescriptive document, allowing large buildings in some places while preventing them in others.  This type of zoning plan has been getting a lot of flak lately and rightly so in my opinion.  If we just painted a broad brush of ‘residential’ in some areas and ‘mixed use’ in others, I think we would find that over time, property values would become dominated by the buildings on the property rather than the value of the underlying zoning. Zoning codes were adopted a long time ago as one of the systemic ways to keep lower class people out of neighborhoods, and to this day they do a great job of it. In order to do this in today’s legal climate, the way this is done is by preventing multi-family construction in certain areas.  Single-family houses ultimately cost more than multi-family per unit to rent or own, so those without means are prevented from living in wealthy areas.  In a world without prescriptive (sometimes called exclusionary) zoning, we would see desirable areas getting more housing and an equilibrium in the market.

Many of my friends who are aware of these problems are disappointed to hear about the residential down-zoning that Eliot is currently doing, but what they don’t realize is that it won’t have that large of an effect.  The main properties that will be affected are the largest ones, and Eliot doesn’t have very many double- or triple- lots that are greatly effected by these changes.  We have heard from some of the property owners of these large lots and it is unclear if there will be exceptions made for any of those parcels.

Some planners in Portland like to talk about how we are zoned for 100 years of development.  If we dive into the numbers, roughly 7% of properties turn over every year, and only about 1/3 of those properties are profitably develop-able.  This means that people who want to redevelop property are going to need to buy half of all properties that are in this ‘profitably redevelop-able’ category.  Since that is the case, those properties will have enormous competition between people who want to live in the houses, and those who want to develop the properties and the prices will be driven up substantially.  Without zoning, developers could buy almost any property, or property owners could even redevelop themselves, by more easily being able to divide up existing homes into multiple units or add on to their spaces without as many zoning rules.

Some parts of this are trying to be tackled by the ‘Residential Infill Project’ proposal that is currently ongoing. Although Portland is a growing city, it would be a shame if we continue our classist policies that have priced out many people who grew up here, and are pricing out all of the creative individuals that make Portland such a nice place to be.

The Eliot Land Use and Transportation Committee meets on the 2nd Monday of the month at 7:00 pm at St Philip the Deacon Church – 120 NE Knott St