What is Portland’s Residential Infill Project and What Does it Mean for Eastmoreland?

Some questions have arisen about the impact Portland’s Residential Infill Project (RIP) might have on Eastmoreland, and how it might impact concerns some residents have that have led to discussion of designating the neighborhood as a National Historic District. As a member of the RIP Stakeholder Advisory Committee, I will attempt to address those. A link to the RIP proposal is here: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/594795

Scale of New Homes

The RIP significantly reduces the height and size of new homes and remodels in all single-family neighborhoods. It also increases setbacks, though Eastmoreland’s would stay unchanged because we (along with Laurelhurst) already have the largest setbacks in the city at 25 feet. Using a 5000 sq. ft. lot as an example, the current City code allows up to a 6300 sq. ft. home. The RIP, in contrast, would reduce the allowed home size to a 2,500 sq. ft. house + a detached structure up to 750 sq. ft. So, the maximum buildable floor area would be 3,250 sq. ft. on the lot – including the garage and any accessory dwelling units (ADUs). This does not include a basement, but since any basement would be below grade, it would not contribute to the scale of the home relative to others in the neighborhood. The RIP also calls for the reduced height of a new house to be measured from the low point on a lot.

Eastmoreland has homes that are both smaller and larger than the maximum allowed by the RIP, all presumably "historical". Therefore, the RIP would perform at least as well as an historic district in maintaining a scale of new and remodeled housing in keeping with the neighborhood.

Demolitions

The RIP proposal will diminish demolitions as least as well as an historic district, and maybe even more so – and without the stifling restrictions on exterior alterations that every home in an historic district would face.

In an historic district, homes found to be "non-contributing" can be torn down just as they can today. Homes that are "contributing" will be difficult to demolish, but not impossible if certain criteria are met.

In contrast, as part of the RIP, Portland contracted with a prominent economist to analyze the economic consequences of the RIP proposal. The conclusion of that economic analysis was that the RIP’s reduction in housing size would make it even less economical than it is now to demolish a home in wealthier neighborhoods (like Eastmoreland) and build a replacement house or homes: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/594796

The link below includes maps showing the areas of Portland still likely to be susceptible to teardowns and those that will not be susceptible – Eastmoreland is solidly in the latter: https://medium.com/@pdx4all/the-residential-infill-project-portland-s-anti-mcmansion-recipe-2e5ff5072783#.3uskzct73

This housing scale reduction and resulting reduction in demolitions address much of what has caused angst in Eastmoreland about new homes.

Smaller Home Options

The RIP would allow existing homes to be converted to duplexes, new homes to be built to duplexes, and triplexes on corner lots – all within the same reduced housing scale. So, the dwelling would be of the same size as a single-family dwelling, but provide a smaller housing option that simply does not exist in Eastmoreland. Today 2/3 of all households in Portland consist of 1-2 persons, a trend that is nationwide and increasing. However, we do not have options for those who want to downsize from the home they raised their children in and yet stay in the neighborhood. Take a walk-through Ladd’s Addition – a neighborhood often looked to by those supporting an historic district – and notice the large number of duplexes that fit seamlessly into Ladd’s because of their scale. The RIP recommendation allowing conversion of existing homes into duplexes is a way to preserve existing houses.

For those who believe Eastmoreland will be run over by duplexes and triplexes – there is nothing to support that conclusion. First, duplexes have been allowed on corner lots in Portland for decades and none or few exist in Eastmoreland. Second, the economic study described above concludes that in neighborhoods like Eastmoreland, the economics do not support this.

"Lot Splits" or Development on Smaller Lots

The RIP, an Historic District, and even a rezoning to R7 all come out the same here: none of them would change the ability of a property owner to develop a legal smaller lot. However, under the RIP, a new house would be limited in size based on the size of the lot. An historic district would presumably restrict the style of a new house, but it might or might not impact the size (Eastmoreland’s current home sizes range widely). An R7 zone would have no impact on the size of a house allowed on any lot.

Why could a smaller lot still be built upon in an R7 zone? Eastmoreland has a plurality of lot sizes. State law hinders the ability of a city to restrict residential land in a way that reduces its fair market value for the current property owner – which would happen if a re-zoning to R7 took away the ability of a current property owner to develop a smaller lot. (ORS 195.305)

Tree Canopy

Eastmoreland's 25-foot setback would be unchanged under the RIP. However, the RIP’s reduction in housing scale and height from what is allowed today would decrease the overall footprint of a new home, providing more room for trees and tree canopy.

Conclusion

The RIP performs at least as well as any other option in diminishing demolitions, reducing new house size, and respecting the tree canopy – and at a far less cost to every Eastmoreland resident's ability to remodel their own home than an historic district.

— Mary Kyle McCurdy