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Design Commission presents State of the City to City Council

Design Commission Chair Julie Livingston presented the Commission’s annual State of the City report to Portland City Council on October 17, 2018. Five representatives of the development industry testified on behalf of the Commission.
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Portland Design Commission Chair Julie Livingston presented the Commission’s annual State of the City report to Portland City Council on October 17, 2018. Five representatives of the development industry testified on behalf of the Commission. Corey Martin (Hacker Architects), Anyeley Hallova (project^), Bert Gregory (Mithun), Tom DiChiara (Cairn Pacific), and Dave Otte (AIA Urban Design Panel, HOLST Architecture) shared their experiences collaborating with the Design Commission as developers and architects. 

The Portland Design Commission sees Design Review as a mechanism to strengthen Portland as a city designed for people. In the last year, the Portland Design Commission has faced a steady increase in workload, and the number of Type III approvals they’ve issued has increased (see graphs below). 


The State of the City presentation highlighted projects from 2017 and the first half of 2018 that demonstrated design excellencein the built environment.

Mayor Ted Wheeler, who recently became the Commissioner-in-Charge of the Bureau of Development Services, joined a tour of developments in northwest Portland in October. Led by the BDS Design and Historic Resources Review staff, the tour included a comparison of development that went through design review and some that applied the prescribed standard.

“It is obvious to me that Portland is rapidly walking towards being a globally recognized city and certainly the integrity of our architecture is a huge part of that,” Mayor Wheeler said.

“I look forward to working with the Design Commission to talk about how we unfold the Central City Plan in the 2035 Comprehensive Plan, how we actually continue to uphold these values to make what pragmatic changes we can to improve the process but not lose sight of the core goals of what make this city a really great place to be,” Mayor Wheeler said. “(The Design Commission) has made a huge investment in time and energy. You bring a lot of talent to the table. And by doing so you're benefiting all of us. I'm not just saying that as Mayor, I’m saying that as someone who lives in the city, loves the city, and appreciates the way we come together to address our mutual needs.”

Rendering of Hacker Architects' District Office Building
During the presentation, the Design Commission awarded the 2017 Design Excellence Award to Hacker Architects for their District Office Building project. Located across the street from the Grand Avenue Historic District, the site presented opportunities to express historic themes in a contemporary manner. This project is a great example of collaboration during Design Review. The cross-laminated timber structure is clad with a creative mortar-washed white brick, has large operable window walls at upper stories, and a full-height storefront with historic details.

Commissioner Nick Fish shared both his concern for protecting design review and his gratitude for the Commission’s continued efforts. “Portlanders are very proud of their city, but they also take the long-term view and they want to build something that we can be proud of not just today, but tomorrow,” Fish said. “We have something unique and special here.”

Improvements to Administrative Processes

The Design Commission has recently implemented administrative improvements in response to the Design Overlay Zone Assessment (DOZA). The DOZA Assessment evaluated the design review process and provided recommendations to improve its process and tools. The assessment was a City-led effort alongside a team of consultants. 

Many administrative efforts by the Bureau of Development Services staff and the Commission focus on process improvements, including:

  • Improved public outreach tools
  • Hearings efficiencies
  • Improved agendas
  • Renters included in mailed notifications
  • Neighborhood Association trainings
  • Design Advice Request (DAR) improvements
  • Courtesy DARs for 100% affordable housing cases
  • Increased staffing and professional development
  • Commission trainings and regular retreats
  • Developed Design Commission bylaws

You can find a full list of improvements here.

Additionally, BDS staff are currently proposing a revision of the Purpose statement of the Design Overlay Zone. The proposal (below) recognizes the expanded role of the design overlay zone as it applies to areas of growth and change and updates the focus to consider the three tenets of design.

33.420.010 Purpose (Proposed Revision)

The Design overlay zone strengthens Portland as a city designed for people and supports the city’s evolution within current and emerging centers of civic life. It promotes design excellence in the built environment through the application of additional design guidelines and standards that:

  • Build on context by enhancing the distinctive physical, natural, historic and cultural qualities of the location while accommodating growth and change;
  • Contribute to a public realm that encourages social interaction and fosters inclusivity in people’s daily experience; and
  • Promotes quality and long-term resilience in the face of changing demographics, climate and economy.

You can see video of the State of the City Design Commission presentation here.


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