A duplex lies in wait.
A duplex lies in wait. herreid / Getty Images

Last night was so chaotic with primary elections, it was easy to overlook the long-winded zoning hearing taking place before Portland's Planning and Sustainability Commission. The hearing centered on the Residential Infill Project (RIP, a truly tragic acronym), and drew testimony from people eager to increase affordable housing across Portland, and others upset with new buildings ruining the look of their neighborhood.

Residential infill is a pet project of City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who is carrying on the torch from her predecessor Steve Novick. The proposed plan, which could affect the zoning of 60 percent of Portland, currently limits the size of new houses to 2,500 to 2,800 square feet for most lots and allows for houses to build two accessory dwelling units (ADUs)—aka "granny flats"—per lot. It also would permit duplexes, duplexes with detached ADUs, and triplexes on corner lots, and clarify rules to make building on narrow lots easier. Those in favor of the plan argue that it will provide "missing middle" housing, while those against it call the project a land grab for developers.

Portland Bureau of Development Services

According to people who attended the well-documented hearing, a total of 88 people gave testimony, about half in favor of the project.

“Single-family zoning is one of those things from the 1950s that isn’t a good idea anymore, like meat jello," said one supporter, Tanner Balldus.

The discussion around RIP stands at an interesting intersection of concerns: People's hatred of massive, McMansion-style houses and the unyielding need for affordable housing. The caps on house size are controversial even on the pro-infill side, with housing advocacy group Portland for Everyone tweeting "let buildings get a little bigger for each [additional] home they contain... allow small homes everywhere, not just west of I-205." Portland for Everyone also provided a letter explaining its support for RIP.

Other groups, like the Multnomah Neighborhood Association, are raising money for a legal fight against the pending RIP project.

The testimony from recent hearings will be incorporated into a recommended draft proposal which should appear before Portland City Council sometime this fall. There it will face more hearings, deliberation, and possibly amendments before going to a vote.