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Portland City Council votes to accept Design Overlay Zone Assessment consultant’s recommendations to improve design review and criteria

“My priority clearly is more housing supply, sooner, at a lower cost, with less of a hassle factor while not creating garbage that we’re stuck with for 100 years.” — Mayor Ted Wheeler

“I’m unsurprisingly very concerned with how we are affecting development, specifically development of affordable housing. Certainly our intention is to streamline and accelerate this process.” — Commissioner Chloe Eudaly

“The way we grow does matter, and affordable housing doesn’t have to be ugly housing.” — Commissioner Amanda Fritz

On Wednesday, April 26, 2017, City Council heard from Design Overlay Zone Assessment (DOZA) project staff, design and historic landmark commissioners, and the public about the DOZA Final Report from project consultant Walker Macy. After considering stakeholder and public testimony, Commissioners voted to accept the report, authorizing the bureaus of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) and Development Services (BDS) to implement the recommendations.

Sponsored by Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, the DOZA recommendations will “... streamline the development review process and accelerate the construction of new housing,” said the Mayor in his introductory remarks.

Speaking remotely by phone, Commissioner Eudaly said she had been working on improving design review with BDS staff and “want(s) to increase public understanding of the process.” Short-term actions have already been implemented, remarked BDS Interim Director Rebecca Esau.

While noting her bureau’s collaborative work with BDS on the DOZA project, BPS Director Susan Anderson stated, “Fifty to sixty thousand more people will call the Central City home in 20 years. Design review can help us protect vibrant neighborhoods, but it can’t be a burden.”

What is the Design Overlay Zone and why does it matter?

The Design Overlay (d-overlay) Zone promotes the conservation, enhancement and continued vitality of areas of the city with special scenic, architectural or cultural value. It also supports quality development near high-capacity transit. This is achieved with the use of design guidelines for various d-overlay zones and by requiring design review or compliance with objective Community Design Standards. Design review or compliance with the Community Design Standards also ensures that certain types of infill development will be compatible with Portland's neighborhoods and enhance the surrounding areas.

But as Portland grows and more housing and new development is needed, design review needs updating to meet demand.

Gathering feedback for assessment and recommendations

The DOZA consultant team solicited feedback from architects, designers, developers, builders and community members to develop an assessment report, which was reviewed by staff and other stakeholders. Subsequently, Walker Macy developed a list of recommendations to strengthen the current system. This was also shared with stakeholders, including the Design Commission and the Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC). 

Said Kat Schultz, PSC chair, “The design review thresholds need to be right-sized based on impact. Removing regulatory barriers will allow innovation and testing of new systems as well as give small developers and property owners a chance to succeed while furthering the equity goals in our Comprehensive Plan.”

Testimony on consultant’s recommendations

Mark Hinshaw from the Seattle office of Portland-based Walker Macy presented the results of the assessment and recommendations for improving the design review process.

“Design Review is not broken, but it needs a refresh,” said Hinshaw. “Part of Portland’s personality is the funky, strange, home-grown character of its neighborhoods and buildings. So we should let the small stuff go.”

Design Commissioner David Wark noted, “Portland has a reputation for moving the bar forward in terms of urban design and design excellence. To retain the qualities of Portland that make it special, design review and Design Commission will continue to be an important part of that process.”

“How much a project affects the public realm should not lose its importance,” remarked Historic Landmarks Commissioner Kristen Minor. “Changes at the street level have a much greater impact on the public realm than changes at the rooftop of a project, for instance. We strongly support the recommendation for greater input from neighborhood associations and would encourage applicants to reach out even in the planning phase of a project.”

Commissioners’ final thoughts before voting

Before voting to accept the DOZA recommendations, Commissioners shared their perspectives on design review as it relates to new development in Portland.

“I’m very appreciative of all of the broad recommendations that take into account how to continue to build community consistent with our values,” stated Mayor Wheeler.

Echoing concerns about more thorough outreach, Commissioner Amanda Fritz said, “We need to involve all of the communities, not just the traditional ones. I appreciate [the consultant’s] comments about getting notice to renters, for example. There are a number of ways we can increase our outreach, but it has to matter that people can participate..”

Commissioner Eudaly expressed appreciation for “comments from a whole range of folks —  even when there was tension or disagreement. These are fascinating and vital issues.”  

View the Council meeting and hearing about DOZA (starting at 1:05:27)

Next Steps

With the acceptance of the report, BPS and BDS staff will now begin improving Portland’s tools to implement the consultant’s recommendations. This will involve Zoning Code changes through a legislative process, updates to design guidelines and standards, and improvements to the design review process. Community members will have many opportunities to provide feedback on proposed changes, so look for updates on this page for upcoming news.

For more information about the DOZA project and to sign up for project updates, please visit