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About the West Portland Town Center Plan

Purpose, background, and contact information for the West Portland Town Center Plan.
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Project purpose

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is working with a diverse group of partners and the broader SW community to create a West Portland Town Center Plan (WPTC). The plan will lay out a vision for a complete and inclusive community around “The Crossroads,” the intersection of Barbur Blvd, I-5 and Capitol Highway. Together we are laying the groundwork for:

  • More housing choices for people of all ages, abilities and incomes.
  • Opportunities for more commercial space.
  • Easier and safer movement on foot, bicycle or transit.
  • More community places and gathering spaces.

This planning effort strives to be inclusive and equitable, prioritizing the needs of the area’s most vulnerable people and partnering with the community to create a long-range vision for this vital place in SW Portland.

The plan will help provide more housing choices for people of all ages, abilities and incomes. It will create broader access to jobs and economic opportunity and make it easier for people to get around on foot, bicycle or transit. It will also foster community places and gathering spaces. And it will do so in a way that is inclusive and equitable, prioritizing the needs of the area’s most vulnerable populations.

Project background

The West Portland Town Center Plan (WPTC) is one of several efforts under the SW Corridor Inclusive Communities Project. It was funded by a Metro Construction Excise Tax (CET) grant in late 2018.

Along with the town center plan, an equitable community development action plan will help create a fuller range of commercial services and achieve some of the housing goals in the Southwest Corridor Equitable Housing Strategy (EHS).

In addition, the Public Involvement Plan will guide the process for planning for healthy, connected, and inclusive communities in the South Portland and West Portland Town Center future light rail station areas:

The intent is to ensure an open and equitable process to provide residents, workers and other interested parties meaningful opportunities to shape the quality of growth in their communities.

The West Portland Town Center Plan will carry forward key directions from the EHS as well as the 2035 Comprehensive Plan goals and policies of building inclusive, connected and healthy communities.

Where is the West Portland Town Center (WPTC)?

This town center is located north and south of the intersection of Barbur Blvd, Capitol Highway and Interstate 5 – also referred to as the “Crossroads.” Other landmarks in the area include the Barbur Transit Center and Barbur World Foods. The study area roughly encompasses between SW Dolph (north), SW 35th (east), SW 53rd (west) and SW Pomona (south).

View a map of the WPTC Plan study area:

What is a town center?

The City of Portland defines “town centers” as large hubs, providing housing and jobs as population and employment opportunities grow. Town centers (think Hollywood or St Johns) provide a full range of commercial and community services, high-density housing, as well as mid-rise commercial and mixed use buildings. They are usually served by high-capacity transit (light rail or frequent service buses), include a robust employment sector, and provide enough housing for residents to support a full service business district in the center.

What is a town center plan?

A town center “plan” is a long-range guiding document (think 10 to 50+ years into the future) for a town center area. This kind of plan helps the City and private parties make decisions about investments and ways to support the future growth and vitality of a town center area. The plan considers existing conditions and challenges in the area, as well as the community’s aspirations and needs. It also shows where and how the town center will change and grow over time, and adopts or directs the laws, programs or investments needed for the future changes discussed in the plan. 

Why a plan for the West Portland Town Center now? 

West Portland Town Center is one of the few town centers in Portland without a land use plan. It is one of only two town centers in SW Portland, Hillsdale Town Center being the other one. It was designated as a town center in 1995, and the designation was reaffirmed in the City’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan process in 2016. 

In the coming years, many more people and businesses are expected in SW Portland. The West Portland area has the makings of a dynamic, multicultural, amenity-rich town center. Today it provides residents and employees with access to good schools, from primary schools to colleges; well-paying jobs like those at OHSU and in Washington County; and great open spaces, such as Woods Memorial Park and Spring Garden Park. 

It’s a good time to plan for the improvements and benefits the community would like to see with this expected growth and change – with or without light rail in the near term. But it’s even more critical to plan now and create options for the area’s vulnerable community members, so they have the choice and resources to stay and build community if desired. 

Goals and outcomes

Key goals and parts of the plan

The WPTC Plan addresses the current and future needs of both people and the built environment. The vision for the area includes:

Strong communities and people

  1. Prevent residential and cultural displacement by providing low-income households and communities of color the choice to remain in place and build wealth.
  2. Create opportunities for community and cultural spaces to thrive.
  3. Promote opportunities for businesses, including minority- and women-owned small businesses, that reflect the diverse cultures of the area.
  4. Foster and support community engagement and outreach to under-represented groups. Increase their capacity for involvement in issues that affect them and provide access to educational, social, cultural and employment opportunities.
  5. Improve mental and physical health outcomes for people living and working in the area. Elevate the connection to nature in the redevelopment of the area.

Great places with equitable access

  1. Design public spaces that consider the physical and social infrastructure needed to support people and businesses, while integrating the topographic, natural and scenic attributes of this area.   
  2. Increase new and stable housing choices, tools and programs for all household types and incomes throughout the Town Center. Emphasize efficient use of the land closest to future station areas.
  3. Create a road map and/or strategy to fund and build a multi-modal and multi-ability circulation system across the town center area that is safe, comfortable, accessible and useful for meeting daily needs.
  4. Create defined main streets and commercial areas. Enhance conditions for more robust and varied commercial and business services.

The Plan proposes goals, policies, and actions to achieve the vision for the area. The actions include adopting the following key land use tools:

  • Comprehensive Plan Map and Zoning Map changes
  • A West Portland Multicultural Plan district in the Zoning Code
  • A West Portland Town Center Design Character Statement

Proposed changes in the town center plan

Some of the bigger changes proposed will:

  • Create a mixed use multicultural hub with housing, commercial and community services.
  • Change the zoning rules to create a new jobs/employment “focus area” for some areas between I-5 and Barbur.
  • Change the zoning map to transition future housing types from single-dwelling to multi-dwelling residential.
  • Plan for a new “green ring” transportation route that prioritizes the needs of pedestrians and cyclists, as well as “greenscapes” on some of the busier streets to support pedestrian comfort and activity.
  • Create a new pedestrian and commercial main street along SW Collins Avenue that helps connect with future redevelopment at the Barbur Transit Center site.

Community engagement

Since April 2019, the project team hosted five major community engagement events, presenting opportunities to learn about the project and provide feedback. Early on, project partners engaged with the area’s immigrant and lower income renter communities. Community-based organizations like HAKI Community Organization, Unite Oregon and Community Alliance of Tenants received grants to connect with community members via door-to-door outreach and small group meetings. They shared information, answered questions, and helped these under-represented communities understand the planning effort and engage with the WPTC work. 

Community events in Spring and Summer 2019 helped identify the social context, needs and opportunities in the area. At a Fall 2019 WPTC Design Workshop, community members discussed what they wanted to see in the town center (e.g., new housing, commercial services, transportation changes and open spaces) and where these elements could or should be located.

Read a short handout summarizing what we have heard so far from community members:

In the latter half of 2020, the pandemic required the project team to shift outreach methods, building on earlier outreach and connecting with a wide range of community members via an online open house and survey. 

During the next phase of the project, which will include publication of Proposed Draft, engagement opportunities will include learning about the proposal via an online open house and interactive map, as well as providing testimony on the proposal online via the Map App, email, mail or in person before the Planning and Sustainability Commission. 

Project steps and timeline

The October 2020 Discussion Draft of the WPTC Plan was the first public draft of the Plan.

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability will publish a Proposed Draft in late Summer 2021. The Proposed Draft will be considered by the Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC), which will take public testimony before deliberating on the proposal. They may make amendments based on testimony and their own expertise, then make a recommendation to City Council – the Recommended Draft.

Council will take public testimony on the WPTC Plan Recommended Draft, likely in late Fall 2021.  The Plan would take effect once City Council has adopted it.

How will the project affect zoning and development in WPTC?

Future development

There are no immediate plans for any redevelopment in the WPTC area at this time. However, the WPTC Plan lays the foundation for future changes when opportunities arise. Except for the Barbur Transit Center site and public streets and sidewalks, the land in the town center is mostly privately owned. Private property owners will be the ones to decide when they are ready and interested in selling and/or redeveloping their properties. No property owner will be required to sell their home or redevelop their property. 

However, many elements of the WPTC Plan (including zoning regulations) will influence what type of redevelopment is possible. Furthermore, the increase in land value from rezoning provides an opportunity to require public benefits for a more vibrant and equitable town center. These benefits are identified and prioritized in the Plan District code language. 

Single-dwelling and multi-dwelling zones

Currently, single-dwelling zones allow a property owner to have one house and an accessory dwelling unit (either attached or detached). However, once the Residential Infill Project goes into effect in August 2021, up to two ADUs, a triplex or fourplex will be allowed on standard single-dwelling lots. And in some cases, a six-plex will be allowed if at least half of the units are affordable at 60% MFI. 

Multi-dwelling zones require a higher number of units on a lot. This zone would allow more housing over time, including small- and medium-sized apartment buildings and even townhouses. In addition, apartment buildings with 20 units or more trigger the City’s Inclusionary Housing regulations, which require 10-20% of those units be affordable to lower income households. The WPTC Plan is designed to encourage the use of this program.

To create more housing in the town center, the plan proposes to change some of the area’s single-dwelling zones to multi-dwelling. These zone changes affect the types of new development that will be allowed in the future and the level of minimum density that development must have.

Learn more about residential zones.

Changing from single-dwelling to multi-dwelling zoning

A zoning change does not require the existing development to change. If there is a single-family home on a single-dwelling lot and the zone is changed to multi-dwelling, that home can remain as long as the property owner desires. It can also be remodeled or added onto. The new zoning would only apply if the home/primary building is removed.

The property owner gets to choose when development on a property will change. The City does not seek to take or purchase any individual property for redevelopment and generally does not redevelop individual properties. There are a few exceptions, however, such as:

  • When the Portland Housing Bureau might help fund the purchase of a mixed-use commercial or multi-dwelling property for preservation or development of affordable housing,
  • Where the Bureau of Environmental Services purchases a property for a needed stormwater facility or to support preservation of key watershed resources,
  • Or if the Parks Bureau purchases land for a park or natural area. 

How the Residential Infill Project affects WPTC development

The purpose of the Residential Infill Project (RIP) was to limit the size of new single-dwelling homes and create more housing options in our city. It was not intended to create “affordable housing” in the traditional sense.

The Residential Infill Project allows more units on a single-dwelling property, but it does not require any additional units (except on a double-sized lot). A property owner or developer can choose to remove a home in a single-dwelling zone and replace it with simply a new single home or unit. 

The multi-family RM1 and RM2 zones require and allow a higher density than the RIP middle housing allowances do. The draft WPTC Plan proposes changing some single-dwelling zones to multi-dwelling zones. So, if a home is removed on a previously single-dwelling lot, redevelopment of that property would need to meet the minimum density requirements of the multi-dwelling zone. In other words, future redevelopment in these “converted” areas would require higher densities rather than being optional. 

Learn more