City ‘Failing its Promise’ with Infill Project: Letter to the Editor

Robin Harman, Christine Yun and Merrilee Spence, attendees of the Residential Infill Project meetings, offer their take on the process in a letter to the editor.

Demolitions and the Silent Majority

As concerned citizens we have attended the Residential Infill Project meetings over the last 10 months and observed the proceedings. We now ask: Are we going to allow our Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to continue corrupting our zone designations into a moldering block of Swiss cheese?

Vast areas of our city’s single family residential neighborhoods are proposed to be effectively re-zoned without going through the rezoning process.

The use of the term “Middle Housing” is a case in point. No one knows what it means, but with self styled “housing advocates” and with Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s blessing, it is posing as a solution for affordability. Mostly it is an excuse to densify and displace neighborhoods zoned for single family. Those on the committee representing the real estate industry (which was the largest contingent) were unsurprisingly pleased to support the concept and ask for more.

We are also concerned about the content of the meetings. Following a period of indoctrination by senior staff, participants were rushed through exercises that were about as thoughtful as speed dating. The meetings themselves had the appearance of staff leading a committee, many with little familiarity with the issues, to fulfill an agenda. A number of SAC members expressed that they felt they were being led to a pre-determined conclusion. There were some aspects of the zoning code that were taken “off the table” from the beginning, despite objections from some members of the SAC, and despite the fact that this committee was originally formed to address problems with the existing code that encourage demolitions, lot splitting and construction of large (oversized) expensive homes that displace moderately priced existing houses. Proposals for “middle housing” will do nothing to stop demolitions of these houses.

Although the process was supposed to be open to the public, it actuality it was not. Notes for the first 5 months of meetings were not posted on website until the deficiency was brought to staffs’ attention. Agendas were not offered ahead of time. Agendas for the all day “Charrette” were not available until asked for. And that Charrette allowed all of 15 minutes for a handful of the members to actually discuss scale, one of the most important topics of this process. As of today it seems that many of the meeting notes are not readily available on the website. Most of the important meeting notes seem to be buried.

The “Online Survey “ is difficult to find, and is buried at the end of pages of staff proposals. The public is being duped by an avalanche of word, and even the Draft Proposals have misleading language and graphics. Does “Make front setbacks consistent with setbacks on adjacent homes” sound like it would increase the setback? But in fact that means if the adjacent house is closer than the proposed 15 feet, that the setback could be even less, to match the adjacent house(s).

The icing on this baked cake are the “Open Houses”. There is no allowance for input at these meetings. It appears that minimal effort is being made to get the word out about them. A staff member at the Oregonian indicated that the City routinely “hides” public notices in the Daily Journal of Commerce because is cheap and so few people read it. So it goes. The “City that Works” is again failing its promise to the majority of its citizens as it plows ahead with demolition and displacement.

Increasing density in a 2-3 blocks near urban corridors is a great idea. But this proposal defines “nearby” as a quarter of a mile. The map provided shows that the majority of the city would be in this zone, effectively re-zoning thousands of lots from single family to multi family. Are the residents who live there going to meekly allow the city to re-zone their neighborhoods without a formal re-zoning process? This is clearly being done without most resident’s knowledge, or input. Even the Online survey appears to lead people down the path to what planners have designed.
Perhaps the city’s planners could look up “collaborate” in the dictionary before simply ramming another questionable zoning change down our throats?


Robin Harman, Christine Yun and Merrilee Spence

Editor’s note: The Residential Infill Project was initiated in response to neighborhood concerns over “the size of new houses, demolitions and the rising cost and lack of housing choices throughout the city,” according to the project draft proposal.

Its goal is to “adapt Portland’s single dwelling zoning rules to meet the needs of current and future generations.”

As part of the project, a 26-member Stakeholder Advisory Committee was convened last fall and has held 15 meetings in the intervening months, along with a few other activities.

The committee consists of:

Linda Bauer, Appointee – East Portland Action Plan (EPAP)

Sarah Cantine, Architect – Scott Edwards Architects

Alan DeLaTorre, Ph.D., Research Associate – PSU Institute on Aging

Jim Gorter, Appointee – Southwest Neighbors, Inc. (SWNI)

John Hasenberg, Architect

Marshall Johnson, Residential Sector Manager Energy Trust of Oregon

Emily Kemper, Senior Engineering Manager CLEAResult

Douglas MacLeod, Appointee – Home Builders Association (HBA) of Metropolitan Portland

Mary Kyle McCurdy, Policy Director – 1000 Friends of Oregon

Maggie McGann, Project Manager – Habitat for Humanity/Metro East

Rod Merrick, Principal – Merrick Architecture Planning

Rick Michaelson, Appointee – Neighbors West/Northwest (NWNW)

Mike Mitchoff, Co-Owner – Portland Houseworks

Michael Molinaro, Appointee – Southeast Uplift (SEUL)

Danell Norby, Community Development Coordinator – City of Vancouver, Washington

Douglas Reed, Appointee – East Portland Neighborhood Office (EPNO)

Vic Remmers, President and Owner – Everett Custom Homes

Young Sun Song, Appointee – Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO)

Brandon Spencer-Hartle, Field Program Manager – Restore Oregon

Eli Spevak, Owner – Orange Splot, LLC

Teresa St. Martin, Member – Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC), City of Portland

Barbara Strunk, Appointee – United Neighborhoods for Reform (UNR)

David Sweet, Appointee – Central Northeast Neighbors (CNN)

Eric Thompson, Appointee – Home Builders Association (HBA) of Metropolitan Portland

Garlynn Woodsong, Appointee – Northeast Coalition of Neighbors (NECN)

Tatiana Xenelis-Mendoza, Appointee – North Portland Neighborhood Services (NPNS)

The project is now in its “public review of draft proposals” phase, which will last through mid-August. The city’s planning department is inviting online feedback to the proposals.

Letters to the editor
The Portland Chronicle periodically publishes letters to the editor. Letters can be addressed to and should include the author’s first name and neighborhood of residence.