Eastmoreland takes on ‘truth in zoning’ fight

The battle is between where and how much developers can build

Robert McCullough has lived in Portland's Eastmoreland neighborhood for about 50 years, March 15, 2016 (KOIN)
Robert McCullough has lived in Portland's Eastmoreland neighborhood for about 50 years, March 15, 2016 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Robert McCullough has spent nearly 50 years in the Eastmoreland neighborhood in Portland. He’s led the fight against lot-splitting, sequoias and porta-potties.

A street in Portland's Eastmoreland neighborhood, March 15, 2016 (KOIN)
A street in Portland’s Eastmoreland neighborhood, March 15, 2016 (KOIN)

Now he’s leading a zoning fight and supports a city council zoning amendment proposed by Mayor Charlie Hales — who lives in the neighborhood.

The plan, in government language, is to downzone the neighborhood from an R-5 to an R-7. What that means is the maximum density standards — how much a neighborhood can be built up — would make less development likely.

“We are losing trees at a very steady rate,” McCullough said. He pointed to what was “a beautiful family home built in the 1920s” into a large building that will be 2 separate homes.

“Each one of these McMansions clear cuts the entire lot,” he told KOIN 6 News. “It’s pretty simple: The neighborhood averages over 6,000 square feet. Everyone agrees that is an R-7 designation. It’s simply truth in zoning.”

But the city code actually states an R-7 designation is 1 unit per 7,000 square feet.

If the amendment passes, it would make it harder for developers to come in and put up multiple structures.

Jennifer Bragar, the president for Housing Land Advocates, March 15, 2016 (KOIN)
Jennifer Bragar, the president for Housing Land Advocates, March 15, 2016 (KOIN)

But Jennifer Bragar, the president for Housing Land Advocates, said the amendment is special treatment for the Eastmoreland neighborhood. She said this is a density issue and would only increase the cost of housing.

“We are not talking about housing homeless in Eastmoreland,” Bragar said. “We are talking about having all families’ needs met and having options for the kind of options they would have.”

Mayor Hales’ policy advisor Camille Trummer said the amendment is all about the comprehensive plan that includes striking a balance between home preservation and growth.

She denied the mayor is playing favorites because he lives there. “Absolutely not. In fact, it’s not in his self-interest.”

Camille Trummer, a policy advisor to Mayor Charlie Hales, at Portland City Hall, March 15, 2016 (KOIN)
Camille Trummer, a policy advisor to Mayor Charlie Hales, at Portland City Hall, March 15, 2016 (KOIN)

“If Mayor Hales were to sell his home for X-number of dollars, that developer would come in and tear down his beautiful house and put up 2 unaffordable structures,” she said.

Trummer said the city needs to be strategic about the density to create more affordable homes.

“We want them to be near amenties, we want them to be next to light rail transit, next to commercial nodes. We don’t encourage neighborhoods when it would become more unaffordable.”

At this point, it’s only a proposal. There are several other neighborhoods being considered for rezoning.

The Portland City Council will discuss them later next month and vote on the final comprehensive plan in June.

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