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Planning to Build? Do This Step First: Know Your Zoning

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Thinking about building an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit)? Got an exterior project in mind? It’s important to find out what zoning rules apply to your property. Even if your project does not require a building permit, you will still need to follow zoning requirements.
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How to find the rules that apply to your property | Zoning & Land Use | Portland Maps

Why research your zoning? 

You don’t want to waste money and time on design plans for something that you might not be able to build.

Construction on a property could have environmental impacts. The property may be in a neighborhood that has special design rules. These are some considerations the city cares about. It’s a good idea to know exactly what rules you’ll need to follow before you even start planning.

It's helpful to keep this in mind if you’re looking to buy a home and you want to make major improvements or changes to it.

How to find zoning information for free on Portland Maps 

Go to PortlandMaps.com and at the top right field enter your street address. It should locate your property or it’ll give you a list to choose from.

A desktop view of PortlandMaps.com, a map of Portland, Oregon. A tap shows PortlandMaps.com URL on the left margin. The top right text box for entering a street address is outlined with an arrow pointing to it.
PortlandMaps.com home page desktop view. Enter your street address in the top-right text field.

What we’re looking for is the zoning. Simply put, zoning requirements are the rules for what you can and cannot do on a property. 

Next, let’s toggle down the Permits and Zoning tab and then select the Zoning and Districts button. 

PortlandMaps.com with Permits & Zoning tab toggled down and Zoning & Districts button outlined.
Toggle down the Permits & Zoning tab and then select the Zoning & Districts button.

There are three main things to look for under Zoning and Districts: 

  • Base zone 
  • Overlay zone 
  • Plan district 
PortlandMaps.com under Zoning & Districts the Base, Overlay, and Plan District are outlined.
Under Zoning & Districts take note of the Base Zone, Overlay Zone, and Plan District.

The base zone is the basic information about what that property can be used for and how it can be developed. Every property has a base zone. To learn more, click on the base zone link. Any blue text is a link to more information that'll open up in a new tab. In this example, the "R" means “Residential”. That means this property is only for household living purposes but not for anything else like an office or retail space.  

If there’s a link or note next to where it says overlay or plan district that usually means there may be additional rules that you’ll need to follow. 

PortlandMaps.com overlay zone shows this property example is in an Environmental Conservation zone. The zone is highlighted on the property, behind the house.
The overlay shows its in an Environmental Conservation zone.

For this example, the overlay shows the property is in an Environmental Conservation zone. That means if I wanted to build an addition or even a deck there may be additional rules that I’ll need to follow. The addition most likely can't be on the back without a thorough review by the environmental team. That's because there's a creek that flows through the backyard. And they want to make sure that whatever building happens on this backyard is not going to impact the health of that creek that eventually flows into Tryon State Park and the Willamette River.  

Call the Zoning Information Line

It’s always a good idea to call the Zoning Information Line before planning a project but if your property is in an overlay zone or plan district you’ll definitely want to call. This is a free service for general zoning information and staff does not keep any record of these conversations.

Call the Zoning Information Line at 503-823-7526. Be sure to provide the following:

  • Your name
  • Phone number
  • The address of the project location
  • A brief description of your project 

Our city planners will research your property and call you back. During the COVID-19 pandemic call-back time has been around 3-5 business days and we really appreciate your patience. 

Here are three tips to keep in mind during your call: 

  1. These meetings are only 10-15 minutes long, so please prioritize your top three questions. Depending on the questions, there may only be time to answer a few. City planners will give you general zoning information and can point you towards the next step of your process. 

  1. Please be ready to take notes. City planners will not provide email summaries of your conversation. 

  1. You will not be able to request to meet with the same planner if you have more follow-up questions after your call. Feel free to call the Zoning Information Line again.

If you’d like to meet with a planner at a specific time, you can schedule a free 15-minute appointment online

The planner will let you know if you may need a land use review or if it looks like you can go ahead and start applying for a building permit.  

Additional Resources

Learn more about the Development Review and Permit Processes.

Check out more information on Finding your Zoning Regulations and Zoning Maps.

Ready to apply for a building or zoning permit? Visit the Building and Zoning Permit Application page.

Contact

Zoning Information Line

Development Services

phone number503-823-7526

Monday through Friday from 8 am - 5 pm. Leave a message with a phone number, the project address, and your questions.

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