If you’ve ever dreamed of building a house in Portland, you may notice that this dream is fading into the distance. Empty, buildable parcels are rare and expensive. Teardowns are the domain of those with deep pockets.

At 4:30 p.m. March 13 at City Hall, the Planning Board will hear public comment on changes to Section 14-403 of the city zoning ordinance. It’s a meeting that will affect the building of homes and sheds in the city for 20 years. The outcome will determine the fate of so-called paper streets – the last affordable private property in the city limits.

City staff are urging a rewrite of Section 14-403, but its wording appears to be more restrictive toward new building, not less – the opposite of what is needed to address our housing shortage. The back story is that last year Portland used a loophole in a state directive to put all of our paper streets in limbo for another 20 years.

The limbo results directly from Section 14-403, which requires that an entire paper street be paved, widened, curbed and so on, before you can build any new home or outbuilding on it. It’s this part of the ordinance that needs to be made more flexible. This could be done by creating an appeals process for individual lots, adding exceptions for off-grid or tiny homes, or giving Public Works more ability to waive the extremely costly upgrades, especially on streets that are already have homes on them.

Building in urban areas is the most eco-friendly form of development. Let’s not miss the chance to bring new families, new types of housing and new tax revenues to the city. If you care about this issue, I urge you to attend this meeting, call 874-8699 or send comments to Barbara Barhydt of the city Planning Division ([email protected]) before March 13.

Matt Power