YIMBY Portland advocates for a more prosperous, sustainable, equitable, livable and walkable Portland. While YIMBY Portland supports historic preservation, we strongly urge the city to uphold its Feb. 1 vote against a historic district on Munjoy Hill. Instead of overturning the vote, the City Council should commit to overhauling the current ReCode Phase 2 process to better address the concerns on Munjoy Hill and across the entire city related to housing shortages, equity imbalances and sustainability. We do not believe that the historic district is the correct tool to solve these problems, and we believe the ReCode process, as proposed, does not have strong enough goals to ensure success.

The proposed historic district on Munjoy Hill would include this section of Vesper Street. The Portland City Council, which rejected the proposal in February, voted to reconsider the plan and will take it up again at a meeting April 5. Michael Kelley/The Forecaster, File

We understand that the reaction to the pace and nature of development on Munjoy Hill has been strong, resulting from a succession of changes with outcomes that many people don’t like. We see several overarching reasons for the reaction to development:

• Design: One of the leading contributors to poor design outcomes is the city’s current code, which ignores important elements of good design, paired with subjective and unclear design standards. Good design includes clear principles that can be implemented in a variety of styles.

• Scale: Even though there have only been a few teardowns and lot combinations that have resulted in larger buildings, they have a noticeable visual impact and can evoke a strong response. If these buildings were designed with greater care and integrated better with the neighborhood, there would be less of a reaction.

• Affordability: People are concerned about losing the ability to remain in the neighborhood because of rising land values, increased taxes and escalating housing prices. Better zoning, combined with other proactive policy measures to add affordable units, can help hold the property-tax rate steady and keep people in their homes.

The most effective way to address the pace of change, scale of redevelopment, design issues and affordability is by improving and simplifying the zoning. Portland has just started Phase 2 of ReCode, the updating of its land-use code. We are concerned that this process is not ambitious enough to meet the challenges the city faces over the next few decades and is flawed in the following ways:


• ReCode is not getting the attention or resources it deserves. The city has not allocated sufficient funds to complete the detailed parcel-based planning necessary to deliver the results desired by Portland residents.

• Portland cannot address issues of equity, displacement, sustainability and other structural and complex challenges with the current limited scope and budget for ReCode.

• The city is updating the development Design Manual as a separate effort from ReCode. Instead, we should have one integrated process that reduces the emphasis on board review and incorporates more basic design expectations into the zoning, as many other cities have done as part of their zoning updates.

Rewriting the city’s land-use regulations is a once-in-a-half-century endeavor. The rules governing our land are incredibly consequential and directly affect the city’s tax revenue, funding available for schools, infrastructure, parks and services. These regulations also influence economic opportunity, equity, cost of living and quality of life.

If we want to address Munjoy Hill, and the rest of the city, in a proactive and effective way, we recommend that the City Council take the following steps:

• Uphold the current vote of denial of the Munjoy Hill Historic District.


• Re-establish the City Council’s ReCode Committee, as this work should be one of the council’s top priorities.

• Pass a resolution that outlines the goals of the ReCode and a transparent public process to address the full range of challenges facing our city.

• Increase the budget for the ReCode to allow for broader and deeper public engagement, parcel-based planning and a well-organized, high-functioning code to reduce staff workload, lower costs of project approvals, improve the quality of our built environment and reduce conflict and community anxiety about change.

• Choose a ReCode consultant who has documented success with both transparent public process and transformative land-use codes that produce the desired outcomes.

A thoughtful, well-written land-use code can proactively address the public’s most common concerns and lead our great city into a brighter, more peaceful and more equitable future.

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