On July 14, the Portland City Council approved an ordinance that temporarily relaxes some city zoning regulations in an effort to assist businesses as they recover from the economic effects of the COVID pandemic. The ordinance promotes equity and small business start-ups, assists with modified operations, enables businesses to fill vacant spaces faster and for less cost, and supports friendly and uniquely Portland retail districts.
“Portland is open for business!” said Commissioner Dan Ryan, who sponsored the ordinance. “The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a tremendous toll on Portland’s economy, and we need to be nimble in our response—from allowing businesses to conduct operations in parking lots to preserving artwork on streets to expanding occupancy opportunities for home businesses, this ordinance helps businesses recover and thrive. Thank you to my colleagues on City Council, BDS Director Rebecca Esau, and BDS staff for your support, leadership, commitment to equity, and hard work moving this ordinance forward.”
Leading with Equity
Small businesses, including home businesses and convenience stores, play a key role in Portland’s economy. Making operations easier and allowing for greater flexibility helps foster and encourage these businesses. People of color and immigrants in this country are leaders in the creation of new start-ups, at-home businesses and independently owned convenience stores. These temporary allowances can be monitored and evaluated for their effectiveness and potential future adoption as permanent changes. The ordinance:
- Increases limits on the number of non-resident employees and customers who may visit a home business on a single day through March 31, 2023;
- Removes prohibitions, through March 31, 2023, on the presence of accessory dwelling units on sites used for home-based businesses; and
- Waives additional requirements applied to convenience stores and puts them on par with other businesses with similar impacts such as bars and late-night restaurants.
Allowing for modified operations
Businesses have experienced and overcome extreme challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, making changes to stay afloat. The ordinance:
- Allows retail sales and service businesses to conduct business in parking lots they own or lease, through March 31, 2023, and
- Waives the requirements for design review, until April 1, 2022, for tent structures that are placed in parking lots or other outside locations and remain up for more than 180 days.
Speeding up permits and reducing costs
Daycares are in short supply in Portland, more shelter space and community service uses such as drug and alcohol treatment centers are needed, and improvements to existing affordable housing are long-overdue, all while Portland has lost many cherished restaurants and businesses due to the pandemic. In order to make it easier for businesses and property owners to more easily make necessary improvements, the ordinance waives some required upgrades for daycares, affordable housing, shelters and retail tenant spaces for improvements valued at less than $1 million.
Bringing back Portland’s friendly retail district vibe
The pandemic and vandalism have scarred many of Portland’s retail districts resulting in boarded-up windows and an uninviting pedestrian environment. Some boarded-up windows have been painted with artwork and murals that need time for preservation and relocation efforts to occur. The ordinance:
- Allows boards and other materials covering ground floor windows that were installed after the Mayor’s initial COVID-19 State of Emergency was declared on March 12, 2020, to remain until the declared emergency expires; and
- Allows murals to remain in place without a permit or adjustment until Dec. 31, 2021, to assist with preservation and relocation.
The ordinance is now in effect. Owners of businesses that may benefit from these temporary provisions are encouraged to apply for permits with the Bureau of Development Services as soon as they are ready, or to call the Zoning Information Line at 503-823-7526 or set up a free 15-minute appointment with a city planner to ask questions about how these changes may affect them.