The treasured architectural and social fabric of Munjoy Hill is being threatened by a growing number of tear-downs. Perfectly serviceable, compatible structures are being razed, to be replaced by oversized luxury housing that often turns a cold shoulder toward its neighbors. This is a significant threat to the neighborhood, and something that the city can and should fix.

Let us be clear. This is not simply market forces at work. The city set these destructive forces into action in 2015 with an ill-conceived package of R-6 zoning amendments. While billed as a means to encourage infill development on small, scattered vacant lots, the impact of the 2015 amendments was much broader.

By not limiting the infill incentives to then-vacant lots (as the zoning had prior to 2015), it made almost every structure a potential target for demolition and new construction. To add even more incentive for demolition, it allows on the razed site new structures that are almost twice as tall as most Munjoy Hill homes.

One way to slow the destruction is to limit the height of new construction to something that is compatible with the context of the immediate neighborhood. Maximum heights have to be moderated by enforceable design standards so that a four-story building cannot be shoehorned into an area of two-story homes. If the city is not willing or able to impose enforceable, contextual size limits, then new construction on smaller lots (e.g., lots less than 4,500 square feet) must be limited to lots that are already currently vacant, as it was prior to 2015.

It goes against many of the core principles the city espouses – support for affordable housing, vibrant neighborhoods and environmentally sustainable practices – to allow perfectly serviceable workforce housing to be demolished and replaced by out-of-scale luxury units.

Barbara Vestal

Portland


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