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Zoning Basics

Information
Many commonly asked questions about zoning and allowable uses of property within the City of Portland are addressed here.
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Zoning Basics

1.     What is zoning?

The zoning code is intended to implement Portland's Comprehensive Plan and related land use plans in a manner that protects the health, safety, and general welfare of the citizens of Portland. The city is divided into zones (known as “base zones”), which are shown on the Zone Map. Title 33 Planning & Zoning, also known as the Portland Zoning Code, lists the rules for the base zones. In addition to the base zones, sites may also be mapped with overlay zones and located within plan districts, which contain additional regulations.  Also, see below about what a “use” is.

2.     What zone is your property in?

Check your zoning online using one of these search types:

3.     What is an overlay zone?

Overlay zones consist of regulations that address specific subjects in particular areas in the City, such as environmental resources or building height near Portland International Airport. Overlay zone regulations are in addition to regulations in the base zone and modify the regulations of the base zone. To find the zoning on your property, view Find My Zoning. Overlay zones are shown as lower-case letters following the base zone designation.

4.     What is a plan district?

Some sites within the City of Portland are located within plan districts. Plan districts may have additional regulations that can impact a project.

Plan district regulations are applied in conjunction with a base zone. The plan district provisions may modify any portion of the regulations of the base zone, overlay zone or other regulations of the zoning code. The regulations of a plan district often apply additional requirements or allow exceptions to general regulations.

5.     Can you change the zone that your property is in?

If a zone is shown in parenthesis on the official zoning maps, such as R10 (R7), only a Zoning Map Amendment is required. Zoning Map Amendments are processed as a Type III land use review procedure. For more information about procedure timelines and application fees, visit Land Use Review Fees and Land Use Review Types | Portland.gov.

If a zone change is requested to a zone which is not identified in parenthesis on the official zoning maps, then a Comprehensive Plan Map Amendment and Zoning Map Amendment are both required to change the zone. Both of these reviews must be submitted concurrently. These reviews are also processed as a Type III procedure, but have an additional step of a City Council hearing. For more information about procedure timelines and application fees, visit Land Use Review Fees and Land Use Review Types | Portland.gov and also, Zoning Changes | Portland.gov

6.     How do you find the rules for your zone?

Once you determine your base zone, overlay zone, or plan district, you then need to look up the corresponding regulations for those zones:

Dimensional Requirements

1.     What are the setbacks and other limitations for structures on your lot?

The required setback for structures varies depending on the base zone you are in, and any overlay zone or plan district that may be mapped on the property. See “What zone is my property in?” above for how to find this information.  Once you know the zoning on the property, you can go to the Portland Zoning Code, and find the corresponding chapter(s). Each chapter has a table of required setbacks and other applicable development standards.

2.     How do you measure setbacks?

When determining distances for setbacks and structure dimensions, all distances are measured along a horizontal plane from the appropriate property line, edge of building, structure, storage area, parking area, or other object. These distances are not measured by following the topography of the land. See Chapter 33.930 Measurements.

3.     You want to propose a structure that doesn’t meet setbacks. Are there any other options?

If your proposal does not meet a setback standard (or other development standard), you may request an Adjustment to that standard through a Type II land use review procedure. See Adjustment Reviews.  Your request must meet all the applicable approval criteria in order to be approved. A key criterion that must be met is demonstrating that the stated purpose of the standard that is being adjusted will still be met.  Each standard in the Zoning Code is preceded by a “Purpose” statement.

4.     If you demolish a non-conforming structure, can you rebuild it?

No. When a structure or other development that has nonconforming elements is removed or intentionally destroyed, replacement structures and other development must comply with the current development standards of the base zone, overlay zone and plan district.

5.     If your non-conforming structure is destroyed by an event beyond your control (fire, earthquake, landslide, etc.) can you rebuild it?

Yes, but only if the repair or rebuild cost is 75% or less than the current assessed value of the structure.  Land Use Services uses Multnomah County assessment and taxation records to obtain the assessed value.

6.     Can you place a shed in a setback?

It depends on your zone and size of the shed. Find the section on detached accessory structures for your base zone for allowances for sheds in setbacks.

7.     Can you turn your detached garage into living space if it is located within the setback?

All detached accessory structures are treated the same way in the Zoning Code, so changing a detached garage to living area is allowed with a building permit. However, if changing to an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), there are specific setback and floor area limits that must still be met (see Accessory Dwelling Units). It is important to maintain an off-street parking space if it is required when garages are converted to other uses. Where parking is not required, on-site vehicle areas may be removed. There are many circumstances where existing driveways are allowed in locations, but do not meet standards for on-site parking spaces. Parking spaces are not allowed within required front and side street setbacks in residential zones.

Lots

1.     Is your vacant lot buildable?

You can call the Planning & Zoning hotline at 503-823-7526 to get preliminary information on whether it may be buildable. However, property owners need to provide copies of recorded plats, historic deeds, or other documentation that provides evidence of the creation and chain of ownership of the property in order for a planner to determine if a lot is buildable. Review of these documents is done through a Lot Confirmation application. A lot confirmation is an administrative review that verifies one or more lots, lot remnants, adjusted lots or lots of record, or combination thereof, have legal status as a property, that is eligible for development under the zoning code.

2.     What is a “Lot of Record”?

A lot of record is a plot of land:

  • That was not created through an approved subdivision or partition;
  • That was created and recorded before July 26, 1979; and
  • For which the deed, or other instrument dividing the land, is recorded with the appropriate county recorder.

3.     Can you split your lot and create a new buildable lot? Is your land dividable? How many lots can you create?

It depends on the size of your lot and the zone that the lot is located in. Once you find your base zone (see instructions above under What Zone is My Property In), go to the land division chapter for your zone to determine minimum lot dimensions and density:

Also, be sure to check if your property is in a plan district, as some plan districts have different lot dimension and density requirements.

It is recommended that you apply for an Early Assistance appointment to discuss with a planner and infrastructure staff your plans for a land division before applying for a preliminary land division review.

4.     You and your neighbor have a dispute about where the property line is for your properties. Can the City help?

No. This is not a zoning issue. Boundary disputes are personal legal matters and not within the jurisdiction of the City. You should consult a surveyor, a land use or real estate attorney or title company to assist you.

Uses

1.     What is a “use”?

A “use” is essentially how the property is used. Some uses are allowed by right, while other uses are limited or may require a conditional use review. Finally, some uses are prohibited and are not allowed in the zone at all.

2.     What uses are allowed on your site?

To determine whether a use is allowed on a site, you must first determine what “land use category” it is in. Use Chapter 33.920, Descriptions of the Use Categories, to determine what land use category the use is in. For example, a clothing store is classified as a Retail Sales and Service use (33.920.050), and a dry-cleaning shop is classified as an Industrial Services use (33.920.310). Once you have determined the appropriate land use category, review the primary use tables in the Use Categories handout or in the base zone links, listed above, to see the status of that category, and to determine whether the use is allowed, limited, conditional or prohibited. You will also need to find out if the site is subject to additional use restrictions if the site is located in an Overlay Zone or Plan District. See also Additional Use and Development Regulations.

3.     You want to open a new business. What zoning information do you need to know?

First, visit https://www.portland.gov/bds/zoning-land-use/business-zoning-search to determine the zoning for your site. Retail Sales And Services and Office uses are only allowed in commercial/mixed use zones. They are limited in Employment and Industrial zones.

Then, see #2 (“What uses are allowed on my site?”) above on how to determine if your use is allowed by the base zone, overlay zone, plan district, or other additional use and development regulations.

4.     Can you operate a home-based business?

It depends on the type of business you would like to operate. For the rules regarding the type of allowed businesses, please see Title 33.203 Accessory Home Occupations.

Short Term Rentals

1.     Can you operate an Accessory Short-Term Rental on your property?

It depends on how you want to operate the rental and how many bedrooms you want to make available. Regulations for Accessory Short Term Rentals (ASTRs) can be found in Portland Zoning Code Chapter 33.207. There are two types of ASTRs: Type A and Type B.  Type A ASTRs are limited to the rental of no more than two bedrooms. Type B ASTRs are limited to the rental of no more than five bedrooms, and require approval through a Type II Conditional Use Review.

2.     You think your neighbor is operating a short-term rental (e.g., AirBnB or VRBO). Do they need a permit?

An Accessory Short-Term Rental (ASTR) permit is required in order to rent homes or bedrooms on a short-term basis (less than 30-day increments). Residency requirements and other standards must be met for an ASTR Permit to be approved and issued. These permits are available to people who live in their homes at least 270 days a year. Learn more:

Dwelling Units, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU), and Tiny Houses on Wheels

1.     Where can you locate an ADU on your lot?

For ADU location requirements, visit Zoning Code Chapter 33.205 and check your base zone setback requirements.  Additional information can also be found at Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Permits | Portland.gov.

2.     Can you place a tiny home on wheels on your lot?

The current policy for locating a tiny house on wheels on a lot can be found at Guidelines for Occupied RVs and Tiny Homes on Wheels on Private Property | Portland.gov

3.     Can you expand a home that is located in an environmental overlay zone (“c” or “p”)?

It depends. Standards that apply to development can be found in Zoning Code Chapter 33.430. If you cannot meet standards, you may apply for an Environmental Review. Requirements for Environmental Reviews can be found here Apply for an Environmental Review | Portland.gov

4.     How many dwelling units can you get now with the Residential Infill Project (RIP) that passed?

The RIP code will go into effect August 1, 2021. Responses to questions on how these regulations apply to your property are  not yet available from Bureau of Development Services (BDS) planning staff for this future code. However, to understand how it may impact your property, please explore here: https://www.portlandmaps.com/bps/mapapp/maps.html#mapTheme=rip. Starting May 1, 2021, you may apply for an Early Assistance appointment to have a BDS planner answer questions about the RIP code and how it applies to your project.  Until then, please contact the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) with questions about the RIP code. Contact information for BPS staff can be found at Residential Infill Project | Portland.gov.

Historic Resources

1.     Is a Historic Resource Review required for new development or alterations to existing development on your site if it is located in a Historic District or Conservation District, or if the site is a designated landmark?

Probably. Here are the steps to determine if your work is subject to Historic Resource Review:

 a.     Is your property a Landmark?

Go to Portlandmaps.com. In the black bar at the top, click on ‘Advanced.’ Then click ‘Open Data.’ In the search field, type in ‘Landmarks.’ Now choose the ‘Historic Landmarks’ layer. Type in the property address in the ‘Search data and map’ field. Do this again with the ‘Conservation Landmarks’ layer. A blue circle indicates that the property is a Landmark.

b.     Is your property in a Historic or Conservation District?

To determine if your property is in a Historic or Conservation District, visit Portlandmaps.com, enter your address, click on Zoning and Districts, and under Historic Resources the classification type will list contributing or non-contributing and it will list the relevant Historic or Conservation District.

c.      Is your work exempt?

Using what you learned in steps 1 and 2, review the appropriate list of exemptions in Chapter 33.445 to determine if your work is exempt. Please note, “repair” means repair of an existing material, not replacement. Replacement of an exterior material, even with the same kind of material (for example, replacing wood siding with new wood siding) does not constitute repair and will require a review.

2. Do you need to do a Historic Resource review?

It depends. Your proposal may trigger a Historic Resource review, or it could be exempt. See Chapter 33.445 Historic Resource Overlay Zone. You can also call the Planning & Zoning hotline at 503-823-7526 to discuss your project with a planner or apply for an Early Assistance appointment to meet with a planner.

Fences

1.     Does a fence require a permit?

A fence that is more than seven feet high requires a permit. Before installing a fence, check the setback regulations for your base zone to determine the allowed height and location of the fence.  You will also need to determine the location of the property lines.  The only way to determine where your property lines are is to have the portions of your property surveyed where work is proposed.  You can search for a local licensed surveyor online.

2.     How tall can your fence be in the back and front yard?

It depends on your base zone setbacks. Once you know your zone, you can go to the Portland Zoning Code, and find the corresponding chapter. Each chapter has a table of required setbacks and other applicable development standards. Usually, fences cannot be more than 3-1/2 feet tall in the front setback.

3.     What are the rules for fences on corner lots?

For single dwelling residential zones, refer to Figure 110-15 of Chapter 33.110.

4.     Does your neighbor have to pay for/maintain their side of your shared fence?

No. You and your neighbor may choose to share the costs of constructing a fence, but that is a private matter. Your neighbor is not obligated to pay for a fence along a shared property line, nor are they required to allow you access to their property to build or maintain the fence.

Trees

1.   You think your neighbor cut trees down without a permit. What can you do?

Visit Report Non-Emergency Tree Problems or Code Violations | Portland.gov for information about reporting tree removal without a permit.

2.     You want to cut down a tree. Do you need a permit?

Visit Tree Permits and Regulations | Portland.gov for regulations related to removal of trees on private property or removal of street trees.

3.     Are you required to protect the trees on your property during your construction project?

Tree preservation/protection requirements apply to many development projects, including new construction, additions, and exterior renovations. When applicable, tree requirements will be reviewed as part of your building permit application. Please visit Trees and Development | Portland.gov for information about when tree protection is required and what kind of protection may be needed.

Submitting Applications

1.     How do you apply for a Land Use Review?

First visit the webpage for the land use review you want to apply for to see the required application forms and submittal requirements.  If it your first time applying for a particular land use review, it is strongly recommended that the applicant apply for an Early Assistance Appointment first. Information for how to apply for a land use review can be found at Apply for Land Use Reviews and Final Plat Applications. Information on applying for an Early Assistance Appointment can be found here.

2.     What are the fees for an Early Assistance appointment or Land Use Review application?

Early Assistance and Land Use Review application fees can be found at Land Use Review Fees and Land Use Review Types | Portland.gov.

3.     How long does a Land Use review take?

Information about timelines for procedures can be found at Land Use Review Fees and Land Use Review Types | Portland.gov.

4.     How do you get a Land Use Compatibility Statement for my project?

For information on how to submit a Land Use Compatibility Statement visit this page.

5.     How do you get a planner to sign your DMV form?

Email a PDF of the completed DMV application to LocationApproval@portlandoregon.gov. You will be notified of how to pay the fee online or over the phone and the form will be returned to you by mail (DMV requires original signatures). For information on additional information required in your email, visit Location Approvals- Cannabis, Car Dealers, Liquor Licenses | Portland.gov

Neighborhood Associations and District Coalitions

How do you update a Neighborhood Association contact?

Contact the District Coalition that your neighborhood association falls under and they shave access to make necessary changes to the website. To find your District Coalition, visit Neighborhood Coalition Offices | The City of Portland, Oregon

Permits

1.     Do you need a permit for your project?

To determine if a permit is required for your project visit this page Do You Need a Permit for Your Project? | Portland.gov 

2.     Do you need a permit to repave an existing approved driveway?

A permit is not needed if the paved area matches the dimensions of your existing approved driveway.

3.     Do you need a permit to expand your driveway?

A zoning permit is needed to expand or add paving to a driveway with an existing, unaltered curb cut. For information about Zoning Permits, visit Zoning Permits | Portland.gov

Other Questions

1.     What do the colored markings in the street and stakes on your neighbor’s property mean?

The colored markings in the street usually indicate where underground utilities, such as gas, power, sewer and water lines, are located. Marking underground utilities is required before excavation occurs. See more at www.callbeforeyoudig.org. Underground utilities may also be marked in conjunction with a survey. Stakes and/or flags are often used to temporarily mark property lines or other features as part of the survey process. And don’t worry, the spray paint used to mark the pavement is temporary.

2.     How can you find out where your property lines are?

Property owners are responsible for locating their own property lines—either from an existing or new boundary survey, completed by an Oregon licensed surveyor. The Multnomah County Office of Survey Records can also be a resource for plats and property line adjustments. Property owners can research those records at this location:  https://www3.multco.us/H5V/?viewer=surveysail.

Land Use Services retains records of partitions and subdivision plats that have been approved through City Land Division reviews, as well as records of City-approved Property Line Adjustments. Those records are generally complete for years 1979 and later but less complete for prior years.  However, plats only portray the dimensions and sizes of properties; they do not show the location of development in relation to property lines.

You have more zoning questions and want to speak with a city planner.

1.     How can you speak with a planner to ask questions about a project?

The Zoning Hotline (503-823-7526) is a free service to get information about a project and zoning regulations. This service is for general zoning questions about one site.  This service is not appropriate for complex questions that require site research or for multiple zoning questions or multiple sites. Calls are anticipated to last a maximum of 5-10 minutes. If callers need more time or information, an Early Assistance appointment should be applied for.

For general questions, you will leave a message on the Zoning Hotline with your question and property information. A planner will return your call typically within 48 hours. If you do not answer, they will leave a message with the information. If you have additional follow up questions based on their message, you need to make another call to the Zoning Hotline.

2.     How can you meet with a planner face to face to discuss a project?

You can apply for an Early Assistance | Portland.gov or schedule a free 15-minute appointment online. At this time, appointments are held online.

3.     How do you find out who your planner is assigned to review an application?

You can look up your address on Portlandmaps.com, click on permits, and see the list of assigned reviewers.

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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