Shining a Positive Light on the Willamette River with Portland's New Urban Plan

Real Estate and Land Use, Water Law, Environmental

8/11/2017 by Jeanette Schuster

Shining a Positive Light on the Willamette River with Portland's New Urban Plan
Growth and development in Portland's central city – comprised of 10 neighborhoods adjacent to or near the Willamette River, including South Waterfront, Lloyd and downtown – will soon be governed by a new urban development plan.
A draft of the new plan (seven years in the making), dubbed the "Central City 2035" or "CC2035" plan, was released on June 22, 2017. Portland's city council is taking testimony on the draft through September 15, 2017. A copy is available here.
The basis of the plan is to prepare Portland's urban core to absorb 30 percent of the city's total expected growth rate over the next 20 years, including the addition of more than 50,000 jobs. That number is significant considering that the Central City has only 3% of the whole city's land area. To accommodate the expected increase from 23,000 to 60,500 households and the expected increase of 51,000 jobs, the new plan calls for allowed density to be raised, and 37,500 new housing units added. In addition, through a bonus and transfer system, the plan will allow developers to build taller buildings in certain high-density areas, including the Morrison and Hawthorne bridgeheads, but only if developers also provide a public benefit like affordable housing. To protect scenic views and historic districts, some decreases in building height are also proposed.
What stands out the most to me about the new plan is that it seeks to incorporate the Willamette River and its shorelines into the city's useable (enjoyable) public spaces. Considering that the river has been maligned for almost two decades because of its federal Superfund designation based on contaminated sediment, which does not significantly impact the recreational value of the river, it makes sense to finally highlight the often overlooked, positive aspects of the river.
Specifically, the CC2035 Plan (i) applies a new River Environmental (e) overlay zone to river banks and land within 50 feet of the top of the bank and increases the river setback from 25 feet to 50 feet; (ii) allows small retail shops in Open Space zoned sites, e.g., Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park, to activate the riverfront; and (iii) supports more active uses on the Central Eastside riverfront by applying a mixed use employment zone.
The plan also calls for a green-space connection to Central City neighborhoods via the Green Loop, a six-mile linear park that connects neighborhoods all over Portland to Central City attractions.

The above map is courtesy of the City of Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability website.