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Draft 2035 Comprehensive Plan makes headlines

Last month, City Council kicked off a series of work sessions on the draft 2035 Comprehensive Plan. Local media outlets were there, including all three major television networks as well as print reporters. Mayor Charlie Hales kicked off the first Council work session on September 29, saying, “This is some of the most important work we’ll do. It’s critical work at a critical time because we’re experiencing all this growth and change.”

KGW’s Rachel Rafanelli reiterated that message later in the day. Standing in front of an apartment building under construction in the Pearl, she said, “There are signs of growth everywhere, and it isn’t slowing down … [The new plan] outlines the city’s vision and goals for growth, focusing on affordable housing, transportation and livability.” She noted that the plan guides growth in Centers and Corridors … growing up, not out. And that the City would cut down on traffic by encouraging public transportation, walking and biking.

In his introductory remarks to City Council, Planning and Sustainability Commission Chair André Baugh talked about how the draft 2035 Plan also provides an adequate supply of employment land, protects the environment and creates better transit options for more Portlanders to get to work.

“This translates into savings in household spending and a reduction in carbon emissions,” Baugh pointed out. “And it ties into the housing affordability issue. We all know we’re out of balance in terms of housing supply and demand for new units. This new Comp Plan is not a silver bullet, but it’s a significant tool to ensure an adequate supply of housing for all income levels.”

The first of five work sessions provided an introduction to the Comprehensive Plan Update, including an overview of the growth management strategy (the “up, not out” mentioned above) and a briefing on the infrastructure investments recommended in the plan. A second work session on October 8 focused on housing.

Housing and Affordability

At the Housing work session on October 8, Chief Planner Joe Zehnder began by recognizing that Portland has a housing affordability issue now because we’ve been successful at building a walkable urban city that people want to live in. As more people move here, demand exceeds supply and prices go up.

The draft 2035 Comprehensive Plan includes a two-pronged strategy to address housing affordability: 1) increase housing supply for all income levels; and 2) increase the supply of permanently affordable housing.

Additional work sessions were held on October 29 (Economic and Environment elements), November 3 (Transportation element) and November 10 (Land Use Map). You can watch videos of each work session on the City Council website

Council will hold three public hearings before the end of the year (check City Council agendas for updates and details):

  1. Thursday, November 19, 2 – 6 p.m.*
    City Hall Council Chambers
    1221 SW 4th Ave
  2. Thursday, December 3 2015, 6 – 9 p.m.
    Mittleman Jewish Community Center
    6651 SW Capitol Hwy
  3. Thursday, December 10, 6 – 9 p.m.
    Parkrose High School
    12003 NE Shaver St

*2 – 3 p.m.
Testimony heard on the Economic Opportunities Analysis, Growth Scenarios Report and other supporting documents
 3 – 6 p.m.
Testimony heard on the Recommended Draft Comprehensive Plan Goals, Policies and Land Use Map

Starting in January, Commissioners will resume their consideration of the draft 2035 Comprehensive Plan, holding additional work sessions and potentially more hearings.

More Comp Plan Coverage in the Media

In an interview with KATU’s Steve Dunn on October 4, Mayor Hales acknowledged, “Growth is scary, and we just want to press the pause button because it feels like we’re in the rapids. … But we need to plan for what we want. Like 82nd Ave. Is that really what we want there, surface parking lots and car dealers? Is it the highest and best use of that land? What can we do to make places like Montavilla and Lents better?”

The City’s new Comprehensive Plan was also featured on OPB radio’s Think Out Loud, along with a podcast titled One Portland Growth Document to Rule Them All. Principal Planner Eric Engstrom represented the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, telling host Dave Miller, “The plan today really isn’t full of a bunch of new ideas; it’s a continuation of the old one. A lot of things in the city today — like the bus mall, Waterfront Park, the streetcar system, the Pearl and South Waterfront, and the retention of the Central Eastside Industrial District — those ideas were all part of the 1980 Plan and have come to fruition.”

There are new areas of focus in the 2035 Plan, however. Like equity, affordable housing, investments in infrastructure in underserved areas, and providing for middle-wage jobs.

Street Roots endorsed the new Plan on October 8, noting the importance of the 11 policies that address gentrification and displacement.

And OPB’s Amelia Templeton helped explain how the Plan would help create more jobs in a story called “Portland Growth Plan Proposes More Middle Wage Jobs.” By helping landowners redevelop brownfields, providing more land for small manufacturers, and creating better bus routes to connect people living in East Portland with jobs along the Columbia Corridor, the Plan will support job creation and retention.

“Can the City shape growth? Or will the city just grow up willy-nilly?” asked KATU’s Kerry Tomlinson in her September 29 “Problem Solvers” feature. She referred Portlanders to the Comp Plan Map App, and encouraged people to go online and check their property. Tomlinson’s suggestion prompted more than 5,000 visits to the site that day. Since launching on September 21, the Map App has had almost 27,000 hits, and more than 203 comments have been submitted to City Council via the interactive tool.

Finally, the Tribune published an op-ed by Sam Chase, Alisa Pyszka and Skip Newberry called “Portland future not tied to other models.” In it, the writers argue that density is essential to keeping housing affordable in the region and not becoming completely out of reach for all but a few (ala San Francisco and Seattle).

And that seems to be the crux of it for many Portlanders: keeping housing affordable while preserving our great single-family neighborhoods. By focusing growth in centers and corridors with new multi-family development, we can preserve Portland’s unique neighborhoods, keep housing prices from skyrocketing, provide more housing choices and offer more Portlanders the chance to enjoy the complete walkable places that make this city so attractive. The Plan also delivers better transit options to more people and stimulates job growth, especially for middle-wage jobs. It incorporates nature in the city, protects the environment and ensures a healthier and more complete East Portland. Finally, it puts us on path to resilience in the face of climate change. 

Stay tuned for more, as the draft 2035 Comprehensive Plan makes its way through the Council work sessions and hearings. Up next: the Economic and Environment elements on Thursday, October 29 from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.