Early Assistance

Get information about early assistance options, city planner meetings, zoning confirmation letters, pre-permit zoning plan checks and more.
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The Land Use Services Division offers several types of early assistance. This assistance is available before submittal of a land use review or building permit application. These services provide useful feedback for simple projects and very large, complex projects.

Depending on the complexity of your project, one or more of these options may be useful. Review the Land Use Services Fees Schedule.

Zoning Questions

Before seeking out assistance using one of the options below, check the list of commonly asked questions about zoning and allowable uses or property to see if you can find an answer to your question.

Get help from Planning and Zoning

The General Inquiries phone number, 503-823-7300, and the PP&D Web Mailbox are good resources for general zoning and property information. When you call Planning and Zoning, please have the property address or tax account number ready. Planners strive to return calls within 1-2 business days and will spend 15 minutes answering your questions.

If you email the Web Mailbox, please be as specific as possible about the zoning information you need. It is also important to provide an address or tax account number if you are asking about a specific property. When we receive your question, please state that preference in your message.

A planner can answer general zoning and process questions about your site. We cannot give land use determinations that are specific to a site.

If you want zoning questions about a specific site answered in writing, you may apply for a Zoning Confirmation Letter or an Early Assistance appointment. For Building Code questions, call the General Inquiries phone number.

15-minute appointments

Customers may prefer to make an appointment to speak with a city planner. You can schedule a free appointment online.

Zoning confirmation letters

These letters provide written verification about allowed uses, development standards and other regulations applicable to a specific site. Financial institutions often request zoning confirmation letters. They may be requested by anyone at anytime. Two types of Zoning confirmation letters are available:

Tier 2 letters

Tier 2 letters provide basic information about the location’s current zoning and land use history. Tier 2 letters are used to verify zoning of a property for lenders in property transfer processes.

Tier 3 letters

Tier 3 letters provide detailed information. They include review and analysis of the past and current uses and permit history of the site. Tier 3 letters are also used to:

  • answer site-specific questions about a particular development proposal for a site
  • request a formal Use Determination for a type of business that may not be exactly described in the Zoning Code’s “Description of the Use Categories (33.920)
  • request documentation of a legal nonconforming use on a site

Early assistance requests

Early assistance requests are a flexible early assistance option to help applicants:

  • prepare a complete proposal
  • learn about the procedures and requirements of the city code
  • identify policies or regulations that create opportunities or problems for the proposal

Several options are available. You can request to receive written feedback from a city planner or from both a city planner and Infrastructure Bureau reviewers. Applicants can also request to meet with reviewers face-to-face or to receive written feedback only. 

Early assistance requests are useful for large or complex projects, and for sites that have constraints or opportunities that require some research. Early Assistance requests are also required by the Infrastructure Bureaus for proposals that intend to request an appeal of public works requirements. 

Finally, Early Assistance requests are used for Infrastructure Bureaus to coordinate on right-of-way vacation requests. Please note that life safety plans examiners (building code reviewers) do not attend Early Assistance Meetings, and estimates for System Development Charges (SDCs) are not provided.

Pre-permit zoning plan check

Pre-permit zoning plan checks (also referred to as an Early zoning standards review) provide an early zoning review of projects or sites prior to submittal of a building permit application. A City planner will review project plans and provide written feedback identifying any development standards that may not be met and land use reviews that may be required for the plan sets, as submitted.

This is a good option for large or complex projects that do not require land use review. A complete plan set is requested for a Pre-permit zoning plan check. Information about Infrastructure Bureau (Water, Transportation, Fire, and Environmental Services) requirements is not provided with this option.

Design advice requests

Design advice may be requested from the Design Commission or Historic Landmarks Commission before submittal of a Type III Design or Historic Review. A design advice request is generally optional. The request is required if additional building height is requested in the North Interstate Plan District height opportunity area.

This option is recommended for large, complex, or unique projects that are subject to Type III Design or Historic Review. A design advice request does not take the place of a pre-application Conference, which is required for all Type III and Type IV land use reviews.

Pre-application conferences 

A pre-application conference provides the applicant with information on submittal requirements, procedures, and regulations that apply to a project. Pre-application conferences occur before submittal of a land use review, and are required for all Type III and IV land use reviews.

A Portland Permitting & Development City planner as well as reviewers from other City Bureaus such as Transportation, Water, and Environmental Services attend this conference. Other Bureaus, such as the Fire Bureau, may also provide information.

Portland Permitting & Development provides detailed written summary notes from all the responding bureaus after the conference. Please note that life safety plans examiners (building code reviewers) do not attend pre-application conferences. Estimates for System Development Charges (SDCs) are not provided.

Early coordination meeting

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District (Corps) and the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) offer meetings for prospective projects that will remove or fill material in wetlands or waterways. For projects in the City of Portland, a City of Portland planner will attempt to provide additional information about the City permit process. The meeting is for prospective Clean Water Act 404 and Removal-Fill permit applicants.

Get information and instructions for how to sign up for this meeting. For answers to further questions, please contact Jaimee Davis (Army Corps) at 503-808-4381, Eric Metz (Department of State Lands) at 503-986-5266, or Sara Christensen (Department of Environmental Quality) at 503-633-2007.

Early assistance application and information 

Most early assistance appointments need submittal of an Early Assistance application: