City of Portland

It's hard to make a 20-year city planning document terribly interesting. But given the growing pains Portland's had lately, its worth noting a very big step the city took today. After years of planning, drafting, debating, and amending—which began roughly seven years ago, Mayor Charlie Hales noted—Portland City Council finally passed its 2035 Comprehensive Plan this afternoon. It's a 300-page behemoth that sets a course for how Portland will grow in the next 20 years.

Over the plan's extensive development, that's meant debates about what streets and neighborhoods should see most increased density, what tony neighborhoods actually wanted to have their density lowered, whether golf courses would be imperiled (along with their resident frogs) and more public comments than anyone wants to read.

And it's finally done—pending "acknowledgment" by the state and any appeals that might pop up. The entirety of the plan will formally take effect at the beginning of 2018. Here's a copy [pdf].

A central utility of the Portland plan is to guide zoning decisions. That's particularly important as the city grapples with an unprecedented growth spurt. Portland's expected to take on something like 260,000 new residents in the next two decades. But we'd last approved a comprehensive plan in 1980 (transportation elements of the plan are newer), meaning the passage of a new one is an exceedingly rare event. That led to long speeches and hearty congratulations in Council chambers this afternoon.

"In many ways I think we wish we didn’t have to grow," said Hales, who cited finishing the Comp Plan as one reason he decided to pull out of his re-election bid. "That’s why what we’re trying to do with the Comprehensive Plan is try to manage change for all purposes: What Portland will be like when we have a population of 850,000 people, which is what this plan anticipates 20 years from now."

"It’s fair to say that [the plan's] brought out the best in Portland, and I'm proud of the final document," said Commissioner Nick FIsh, who is sick and listening in on the hearing over the phone. "I believe that it walks a fine line between preserving the character of our neighborhoods, and planning for new neighbors."

Some of the more meaty comments came from Commissioner Steve Novick, who's made increased density in traditionally single-family neighborhoods a pet issue in recent months.

Novick upset some people a few weeks back with what was actually a pretty great quip. He called a density reduction proposed for the city's Eastmoreland neighborhood "R1 percent," tying the area's large, pricey homes with zoning nomenclature that breaks the city into zones such as R1, R2.5, etc.

Novick apologized for the comments this afternoon.

"The folks proposing that zoning change simply what to preserve their neighborhood," he said. "But here's the thing: Eastmoreland is already changing because of rising prices. Many people who live in Eastmoreland now would not be able to afford their homes because of rising prices... There's a conflict between our desire to preserve the physical look of our neighborhoods and our desire to preserve Portland as a place where people of all incomes can live."

With the final word was Hales, who never misses a chance to describe himself as a planning wonk, and who clearly took some pleasure in releasing a document with this much importance under his mayoral watch.

"One reason I decide not to run for another term was to pour myself into this work, and I have, and I’m glad for it," he said, before casting the final "aye" vote. "It's done."