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Building height in historic districts and view corridors the focus of Planning and Sustainability Commission work session on the Central City 2035 Plan

On September 27, 2016, the Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC) held the first of several work sessions on the Central City 2035 (CC2035) Plan Proposed Draft. At that meeting they discussed appropriate heights in historic districts and how some of the Central City’s iconic views should be protected.

Height limits for new buildings in historic districts

Proposed new regulations include reductions to allowed building heights in historic districts to ensure new development is compatible with the character of older structures. The Proposed Draft also removes the option to achieve bonus height in all historic districts in the Central City. 

Here’s a breakdown of the PSC decisions. 

Height in west side historic districts

  • Generally, public comments supported reducing heights in New Chinatown/Japantown and NW 13th Avenue historic districts.

PSC Action: In response to testimony, the PSC supported the proposed recommendations to reduce heights, with a small amendment to allow an additional 25 feet of height in the NW 13th Avenue Historic District south of Hoyt Street.

The historic Weatherly Building

East Portland/Grand Ave Historic District

  • Public comments were mixed about the Central Eastside’s East Portland/Grand Ave Historic District, where current height limits of up to 275 feet could be reduced by 75-115 feet.
  • The PSC expressed concern that the reduced heights might not allow property owners to make full use of the development potential of their land (measured in floor area ratio, or FAR).

PSC Action: The PSC asked staff to return with more information about whether the same amount of floor area (FAR) of buildings allowed today could be built with reduced heights.

Protecting the scenic views of the Central City

The CC2035 Proposed Draft includes an update of the decades-old regulations to protect scenic resources in the Central City. The draft includes proposals to adjust building height limits to maintain some views. Staff are also proposing to add new height limits to protect a few new views. The PSC discussed the three views that attracted the most testimony.

View of Mt Hood from the Japanese Garden

  • Since the Japanese Garden was first established in the West Hills in 1971, trees have grown and hidden parts of the view of downtown.
  • The Proposed Draft does not call for re-establishing the entire historic view of downtown, but it does allow limited tree removal to preserve the view of Mt Hood.
  • Some commenters asked for the historic view to be restored by allowing trees to be removed.
  • Other commenters felt preserving the trees on the steep slope below the garden was more important than the view because the trees provide important functions like stormwater management and wildlife habitat.

PSC Action: Support the Proposed Draft. Do not restore the historic panoramic views of downtown. Allow limited tree removal to maintain the current view of Mt Hood.

Vista Bridge from SW Jefferson St. with rendering

View of Vista Bridge from Jefferson Street

  • The Proposed Draft designated Jefferson Street from the I-405 overpass west as a view street to the Vista Bridge. It also increased height limits along Jefferson from the existing 30–45 feet to 40–60 feet while still protecting the view.  
  • Some residents of Goose Hollow wanted to keep the existing height limits along Jefferson Street. Other commenters asked for heights to be increased to allow for redevelopment in the commercial corridor and suggested adding a new viewpoint closer to the bridge.  
  • As a result, staff recommended amending the Proposed Draft by adding a new viewpoint at Collins Circle, with actions to develop the viewpoint and improve pedestrian access. Jefferson Street would remain designated a view street, but heights would increase to 75 feet to support redevelopment. 

PSC Action: The PSC supported allowing more building height along Jefferson Street and creating a new viewpoint closer to the bridge.

View of Mt Hood from Salmon Springs

  • Today, there are five locations from the west side of the Willamette River with views of Mt Hood. New development in the Central Eastside could block these views if no height limits are put in place.
  • The Proposed Draft included height reductions to protect a view of Mt Hood from the Salmon Springs fountain in Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park. These height limits would significantly affect redevelopment within the view corridor.
  • Many comments asked the PSC to remove the height reductions due to the impact on property owners. Other testimony supported protecting this view because of its importance to tourism and because views of Mt Hood are iconic and part of Portland’s image.
  • As a result, staff recommended narrowing the view corridor to affect fewer properties.

PSC Action: The PSC gave this topic considerable thought and made the tough decision not to support staff’s proposal to maintain the view of Mt Hood from Salmon Springs by reducing building height in a narrower corridor.

  Watch the first work session and read the decision packets.

What’s on the agenda for November’s work session?

At the November 16 PSC work session, the Commission is expected to discuss:

  • Height limits in the East Portland Grand Ave Historic District (continued from September).
  • Other height requests (originally on the September agenda).
  • Parking code (originally on the September agenda).
  • River and environmental topics.

PSC Work Session on CC2035 Plan
Wednesday, November 16, 4 p.m.
1900 SW 4th Ave, Suite 2500A

Please check the PSC calendar to confirm time and location prior to each work session.