March 30, 2021
Portland City Council,
I’m Vlad Yurlov, policy analyst at Cascade Policy Institute. It’s time to free all residential development from design review.
Since 2015, Portland has been operating under consecutive housing emergencies. Under the emergency declarations, the city has expedited the design review process for affordable housing. The Shelter to Housing Continuum you are now considering would exempt outdoor shelters from design review.
I am glad that the City Council has recognized design review as one of the key roadblocks to increasing the supply of housing in Portland. Design review does not just stand in the way of supplying affordable housing and shelter for our homeless residents. Design review stands in the way of providing market rate housing too. I urge City Council to go further and remove design review requirements for all residential development in Portland.
As the Council knows, the design review process adds delays, expenses, and confusion to all types of housing, not just affordable housing and shelter for homeless residents. The delays, expenses, and confusion that affect residential developments are a key reason for Portland’s continuing affordability and homelessness crisis.
Design review for residential developments typically takes between 42 and 90 days. That’s up to three months that could have been spent building more housing units. These burdens apply to the City’s affordable housing bond projects as well. Developers are left to appeal to the subjective whims of Portland’s design commission.
I hope you remember Landon Crowell’s proposed development at 1122 SE Ankeny Street. Starting in 2016, Crowell spent an absurd 18 months and $200,000 in fees trying to meet the design commission’s demands. Even after the commission agreed the project was consistent with Portland Zoning Code, Crowell was denied his right to supply Portland with more housing. The design commission’s main concern was that building in accordance with “development standard allowances” was incompatible with the unique lot that Crowell had to work with. In September 2017, Portland City Council unanimously overturned the design review commission’s decision and allowed Crowell to build.