What You Need to Know from the Zoning Meeting

A pair of skinny housesOf course you were getting ready for the holidays, so you may have missed the big presentation by the city (Bureau of Planning and Sustainability) on Dec. 9, about the proposed zoning change for parts of the Woodstock neighborhood. (See the zoomable map at the end of this post.) But now it’s post-holiday re-entry time, and the main takeaway is that you need to act fast if you want your voice to be heard about both zoning and the kinds of infill buildings that a zoning change helps foster. Here’s how:

About the proposed zoning change: Send your thoughts to the City Council at cputestimony@portlandoregon.gov or at Council Clerk, 1221 SW 4th Ave., Room 130, Portland, OR 97204, Attn: Comprehensive Plan Testimony. You can also attend a public hearing this Thursday, Jan. 7, 6 – 9 p.m. at 3920 N Kerby Ave. The quickest way may be to use the city’s MapApp, which allows you to click your area or address on a map and leave a comment that remains attached to it.

About infill buildings: In Woodstock and other neighborhoods, people are concerned about the affordability, scale and context of new homes built to replace demolished ones. The city’s Residential Infill Project wants your thoughts on the matter. Take this survey before Jan. 12 and help define community values.

For best results, inform yourself before commenting. To that end, below is a quick but not exhaustive collection of facts from the meeting and links for further pursuit. (If you were among the full house at the Woodstock Community Center that evening, please comment about what to add or clarify.)

How current and future zone types differ

For the areas in question, the current zoning is R5 and the designated (future) zoning is R2.5. Both have “R” for residential. The “5” might lead you to believe that the minimum square footage of land per dwelling is 5,000, but it’s actually 3,000. Meanwhile, the minimum for R2.5 is 1,600 2,500 square feet. This incremental difference in square footage is enough to open possibilities for row houses, duplexes, and yes, skinny houses on typical 50 x 100 ft. lots. R2.5 also allows dwellings to be five feet taller (at 35 feet) than R5. That’s about it for differences. See a handy comparison table of zoning specs on the city’s site.


The zoning path for these areas is not new. For 35 years, R5 has been the current zoning type and R2.5 has been the designated or future zoning type. For a fee, property owners have been able to request a review that would give a property the future zoning type. This generally was granted if infrastructure was adequate. One Woodstock example of a project from this “early adopter” approach is the row houses behind Pizza Roma. Moreover, neighborhoods just to the south and east of Woodstock have carried a current zoning of R2.5 for 20 years.

If the city decides to make the move, the areas in question would see R2.5 as their current zoning type in late 2017 at the earliest.

Concurrent planning, and lack thereof

In deciding whether to make the designated zoning type the current one, the city looks at infrastructure including streets, sewer, water, fire protection, distance to public transit and more. However, there is no coordinated, concurrent planning with entities such as TriMet or Portland Public Schools. Presenters said that Portland Public Schools’ current plans already take future zoning into account — but still, there is no guarantee of denser services accompanying denser zoning.

About traffic and parking

In some cases, R2.5 zoning allows structures to be built without off-street parking. Other areas have used the city’s Area Parking Permit Program to limit the effects of street parking.

Several meeting attendees brought up traffic specifics, including the current difficulty of making left turns at 52nd and Woodstock — but the word from presenters was that, as with other entities, there is also no concurrent planning with the Bureau of Transportation for changes such as designated left-turn cycles.

About property tax

The presenters stated their confidence, based on discussions with county tax assessors, that property taxes would not increase based solely on the zoning change. However, a property owner’s taxes could be expected to increase if the owner makes improvements allowed by the zoning type.

What infill housing might look like

Presenters stated that R2.5 zoning most often leads to infill dwellings that are attached, such as duplexes or row houses. But in some instances where the original platting allows, a typical 50 x 100 lot might be divided in two, creating conditions for the tall “skinny houses” that some find controversial.

The map of affected areas

Click the map to view a PDF version that allows you to zoom in. Areas outlined in orange and shaded in orchid (purple) show properties currently zoned R5 but designated R2.5 in the city’s existing Comprehensive Plan and in that plan’s draft update. For more on understanding current and potential zoning, see the city’s guide.

Woodstock Zoning Review Map
Click the map to see it larger.

9 Comments on “What You Need to Know from the Zoning Meeting”

  1. Judith Russo

    THANK YOU! I know how much work and how many hours you all have put in to the zoning of Woodstock. I did fill out the questionnaire and am going to paste into this post a few of my written comments. Long-winded, but here goes: END the option of allowing developments without parking. REQUIRE developers/builders/owners to build homes that are in character with their respective neighborhoods. END the option of letting developers build higher, bigger, more units etc. in exchange for, say, property setbacks. We should be able to count on a certain size and character without being blindsided by deep-pocket developers. END the rule that allows a developer to tear down all but a wall so they can bypass neighborhood notifications. ENSURE ALL NEIGHBORS RECEIVE NOTICE OF ANY TEAR-DOWNS AND ‘NEAR-TEAR-DOWNS’. END big-money politics that allows for far-too-cozy private meetings and agreements between elected officials and developers Without extensive public input and REAL citizen power. STOP allowing developers to get away with ignoring laws & agreements with only a finger wag from the city. Make it costly to ignore laws & agreements: current options protect bad developers. ENSURE REAL COMPLIANCE, including and up to full tear – down of structures not built to zoning requirements and neighborhood agreements. SPEND resources in neighborhoods commensurate with the lack of resources, infrastructure, clout, and neglect.

    city officials love to be seen as transparent and process-heavy but in fact from my many years of observation it’s truly all lip service. Ultimately the guy with the most money wins. Every single time. Portland could be different: Portland could be a model for other cities in thrall with wealth. There’s still time, but barely. It IS possible to zone with neighborhood esthetics in mind. Only wealthy developers prevent it. There can be infill that is not ugly, does not take more than its fair share of public resources (parking, traffic, etc.), and meets our needs. Do Portland officials have the chutzpah to make it happen? Or will they remain puppets to the monied classes?

  2. KT

    The About Traffic and Parking Section has incorrect info. R2.5 doesn’t contain a no off street parking regulation. There is an exemption for any household use under 30 units of the site is within 500 feet from a transit street with 20 minute peak hour service. You should correct that section.

    1. Bill Walters Post author

      Thanks KT — but dang, this is complex. I’ve made a minor change for the time being — but what about item C (5) on page 110-10 of this PDF and item C(2)(f) on page 611-3 of this PDF? Thanks for any light you can shed.

      1. KT

        C5 is for lots created before 1979 and less than 1600 square feet. C2f applies to new narrow lot land divisions but it’s based on the frequent transit exemption that I referred to previously

        1. Bill Walters Post author

          OK, thanks. Given that public transit is on Holgate, Chavez and Woodstock, it looks like nearly every Woodstock location in question (in purple on the map at the bottom of the original post) might be within 500 feet — and it seems unlikely that very many locations would grow to 30 units. Is it then fair to say that, within Woodstock, there wouldn’t be many R2.5-zoned dwellings that would be required to have off-street parking?

  3. jeff

    Thank you for putting this together. Clearly, there are a lot of moving parts in this process. It’s particularly helpful to see how the authority and responsibilities of different government entities overlap.

    Change is scary. I miss Country Bill’s.

    But we can all see that Portland is growing. We need to make room for more people, and we need to do it in a way that doesn’t destroy the city and the neighborhoods we love. The neighborhoods that are drawing people here from across the country.

    Building more houses on available land through zoning changes seems a good way to do that.

    Moving more people into already built houses would be an even better way to do that.

    Currently, the powers that be, city and county, make it expensive and onerous to put a separate living space in your house. Turning your house into a duplex is even more difficult and more expensive.

    Developers get 10 year tax breaks–looking at you Burnside Bridgehead—for promising to provide “affordable housing” that often never materializes. Homeowners who try to put an ADU up face tax increases.

    Instead of throwing up obstacles, we should be encouraging people to build their own personal infill projects.

    There are a host of advantages to this.

    1) Less impact on the existing community than new construction, especially the construction of large apartment complexes.

    2) Money from renting the spaces created goes to homeowners. A good chunk of that money will be spent right here in the community, benefitting local business and local workers.

    3) Residents will be on board. Since rents earned will benefit local homeowners, concerns about “changes to the neighborhood” will give way to appreciation for the way rental income helps with paying mortgage expenses and rising utility costs.

    4) Much easier to move aging parents, or friends and family displaced by the fiery rent market, into your home in a way that allows everyone to live in peace. relative peace.

    The list goes on. Basically, I’m calling for crowd sourcing the Portland housing crisis. Time to move the sharing economy indoors.

    The best part. It’s pretty easy to do. Let’s stop rewarding big developers who build housing and stop punishing local residents who try to build housing.

    Instead, we should streamline the process for converting homes to duplexes and putting apartments in existing houses. There are ways to do this: decrease or waive city fees; make zoning changes; protect homeowners from dramatic tax increases; maybe even extend low interest loans to residents who add housing. I have no doubt that creative and willing minds at the city and county level can come up with even more ways to make this happen

    So what do you all think?

    1. Shaun

      I agree with you as long as the homes are owner occupied. I’m tired of out of state and out of country rich people buying up the homes here and turning them into overpriced rentals or Air BnB. There should be a moratorium on non-owner occupied purchases of single family residential until the inventory of houses catches up some.

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