Portland City Council adopts major improvements to the City’s design review process and program

Press Release
Changes will allow more multi-family housing and mixed-use projects to go directly to the permit process; expands the design standards so more projects can meet them.

Portland, ORE. — Addressing Portland’s housing crisis from yet another angle, yesterday City Council formally adopted the Design Overlay Zone Amendments (DOZA) package, which streamlines the design review and permitting process for new apartment buildings and mixed use development in the city’s higher density areas.

Several years in the making, these zoning code amendments began with an independent evaluation of Portland's design review process, followed by extensive stakeholder engagement with residents, architects, designers, developers and community groups. The initial proposals were reviewed and refined by both the Planning and Sustainability Commission and the Design Commission, which had oversight and authority over different parts of the proposal. City Council considered hundreds of pieces of public testimony before adopting the proposals and their amendments.

Design review applies mostly to commercial districts where mixed use development is prevalent. These changes will make it easier and quicker for new housing — including affordable housing — and other construction projects to come online, while meeting the community’s goals for creating vibrant, people-centered urban places. And they will ensure that new buildings enhance their surroundings and promote quality design and long-term resilience.

Perhaps most significantly, the DOZA package includes an expanded set of design standards, that if met, allow more projects to bypass design review and go straight to permitting, which saves time and money, supporting more new construction and housing.

Commissioners praised staff for being collaborative with other bureaus and engaging so many Portlanders, including housing advocates, neighborhood groups, design professionals, and business owners. Said Commissioner Dan Ryan, “Over the next 10 years, we’ll continue to experience a need for housing. These changes make it easier — not harder — to create housing.… It’s a great policy.”

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty noted that, “We need housing in every neighborhood at every income level, and we are a long, long way from that. I look forward to us … making the changes that help ensure we have housing that people can afford to live in.”

Commissioner Carmen Rubio remarked that the changes will remove barriers. “With the adoption of this policy, we will be … eliminating red tape to much-needed development … and fully utilizing funds approved by voters to build affordable housing.”

“DOZA reflects the outcome of a long process to meet our community’s need,” said Mayor Ted Wheeler. “Thanks to staff, the Planning and Sustainability Commission and the Design Commission, especially PSC Chair Kat Schultz, who said, ‘Let the standards do the work of the [design] commission.’”

The new rules will go into effect on August 1, 2021.

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Eden Dabbs

City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability