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Sunday, May 17, 2009

An apartment bunker in your neighborhood? If it's "delightful."

Here's another interesting tidbit out of Salem. I am late to this party, but if I am getting it right, the authors of this piece are giving a thumbs-down to the City of Portland's proposal that it alone among Oregon cities be given wide discretion as to what kind of infill housing it accepts and rejects, to be judged more or less on an ad hoc basis.

This may be the land use bill about which Mayor Creepy gave his impassioned little press conference that turned off all the state legislators. In any event, the more discretion the city has, the greater the opportunity for cronyism and mutual back-scratching. I don't like most of the Soviet-style human warehouses that are wrecking Portland, but nonetheless I'm for clearer standards and less discretion for the mayor and his ilk down at City Hall.

Comments (22)

I have worked with the authors of the DJC piece. Good people.

Mr. Sullivan's and Ms. Richter's position is sound; the City's isn't. The City planners don't want to adopt clear and objective standards for affordable (cheap) housing because they want to be able to turn it down if it's proposed for Portland Heights, Irvington, Alameda, or Eastmoreland.

Not to mention they want to be able to extort campaign donations and other favors out of developers.


Somehow they don't have design issues in Southwest Hills, Bridlemile, Healy Heights or Hillsdale?

Not if it's housing for the rich.

Someone has to dis-abuse Randy and Sam of this hubris they've developed. Since when do either of these clowwns think they have better taste than anyone else in the city or state?

You must have missed the memo. Fireman Randy is now in charge of all design, starting with neon signs.

"Fireman Randy is now in charge of all design"

Hey, wht the heck? Teddy K thinks he actually knows how to run a state with $3.5B budget hole and 2 worst unemployment in the country.

THis is my problem with one-party politics, usually the Peter Principal is in full effect.

We do need a stronger system of screening for hideous design in Portland (probably around the state in general, but I can only speak to Portland.) Just look around at the number of bad condo buildings thrown up. This proposal may have some flaws, but anything that puts some checks and balances in the way of hasty, ugly development- that works within the community its getting plopped into- is a good thing, I think. What depresses me is the fact that its a sure bet that the reason this met with such opposition in Salem is because Sam has completely lost his cred and went about this in his usual high-handed and arrogant way, not bothering to even consult the lawmakers in question, according to previous news reports, before he tried to just run with it. Even when he has a glimmer of a good idea he mucks it up.

More design screening, M? One person's beautiful building is another person's eyesore. It's always been like that, and standards change over time. Most of today's design treasures would never have been built if they had to conform to the prevailing sense of design when they were built.

Let people do what they want on their land, subject to objective limitations that apply to everyone in that zone, and that apply to everyone building that kind of building. If the building is ugly, people won't want to use it. If you want to impose your sense of design on others, buy your own land and build your own buildings.

I agree in large part with Jim. It isn't the designs necessarily that are hurting our city and neighborhoods, they are the decreased setbacks, elimination of solar regs, the imposing of the "snout house regs", the increased heights in base zoning, the elimination or reduction of parking requirements, and all the increased flexibility of heights, FAR, density, etc. if you provide a bike rack, or landscape bed, or... etc.

Tell me how the snout house regs have enhanced our neighborhoods. Sometimes it might, but I know of many examples where existing or any future front yard trees are eliminated because the front door wall plane can't be over 6 ft. back from the front plane of the garage face. A front yard of usable dimensions to kick a ball, or have a front yard courtyard where outside lounging, eating, and sun rays can be experienced is usually eliminated. Just as much neighborliness can be had in the front yard as a 4 ft, above grade deck or small plot of ground possibly on the back, north side of a home, apartment, or condo.

Is the requirement or encouragement by giving increased density for placing the garages and entrances on the back of a property really helping the street livability, the environment? The previous complaint about having a garage off the street serving the property is that people drove into the garage and did't interact with neighbors. Now, when a garage is off a back alley, the owner drives into the alley, sometimes blocks the alley because their garage is a storage unit, then enters the house by the back door, never even seeing a neighbor. The front door facing the actual street is just a stage set, hardly ever used in these situations. Plus the amount of site used with hard surfaces, further impacts the environment, more than doubled.

I could go on, but the point is, as we keep adding on regs, especially that are not thought out, then we do hurt our built environment as well as our natural environment.

Let's not go into to "design regulations". Besides, these kinds of regulations could easily be thwarted with our usual easily "swayed" review and permitting system.

Also, there are no market incentives to build pretty buildings when the buildings are not paid by the building's users, like affordable housing.

Poor people take whatever affordble housing they can get. A boxy building still looks better than an actual box.

If we didn't pay to house people who don't work, there wouldn't be so much of a problem with design, because people who work hard for their money wouldn't spend their money renting an apartment in an ugly building.

"stronger system of screening for hideous design"

You have an example of what you call hideous design? I mean Randy thinks a neon rose is beautiful, so I don't think have a govt committee choosing this stuff is any guarantee of good results.

just say no to Design Standards!
As mentioned above they are arbitrary on paper , and I can attest that they are used as tools of punishment or reward by unelected and unsupervised BDS staff. We all need objective Zoning Regs , and lets stop there. Each person can build as he/she sees fit and can afford. If you don't like it move on. Cities are about living with and sharing with each and all.

Yea, I made out like a bandit once because thank God they happened to like what I was doing, but it wasn't fair, and it wouldn't work again because the guy who liked me is gone now. I feel bad for all the people who lost a fortune on architectural redos trying to satisfy the committee. I know of several great projects that never happened because hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on design instead of construction. Avoid the little (d) at all costs!

Apropos of "snout houses," mentioned by Jerry five comments above, one side effect of banning snout houses is that driveways have to be longer to reach a garage that's farther from the street, meaning that house lots have to have more impervious surface and thus generate more storm runoff. It's a little quirk of the code in which BDS's desire for fine-looking buildings runs headlong into BES's desire for more permeable surfaces.

Isaac, a true story. Early on in the snout house fiasco, I had a design before the planning bureau asking for a design adjustment to allow for a grouping of trees to be saved in the front yard, meaning that the front door would be 16 ft. back from the garage plane. Also, the owners wanted a Japanese courtyard in this south facing front yard , only sunny spot on the lot, and relative flat area of whole slopping site. Plus, it would save an enormous Japanese maple.

Denied. The snout prevailed, and the house was never built costing the city probably $10,000 dollars per year in property taxes.

I'd have to say Billb has it about right on why the denial-"punishment", "reward", and add "arbritary"

I guess what I really mean in terms of hideous design is not so much about pure aesthetics... but more about fitting into the community its going into. Not so much the look for appearances sake, but how it affects the already-existing neighborhood. For example, putting up a blocky, butt-ugly condo structure in a neighborhood of beautiful old homes is not respecting the existing surroundings. When neighbors have come together to fix up a neighborhood and make it a nice, liveable place, and then along comes a developer trying to make a quick buck by putting up a cheap, poorly constructed building that is taller than all the surrounding houses and sticks out like a sore thumb, then give me a break, that sucks. Development is not bad- dumb and shoddy development is. There's considerate developers out there that meet with the community and put some thought into where they're building and do some "front-loading" planning, which is very smart, because then they are met with a sense of partnership and cooperation from the neighborhood. For me its about having a little respect for the hood you're building in, not about a certain tree that is or is not ok for your yard, or a certain amount of setback for your garage. To me the issue is not so much about private single-occupancy homeowners changing their properties as it is about developers, who don't live anywhere near there, coming in, throwing up something cheap and fast, then retreating back to their homes miles away from the neighborhood they just helped make uglier. And no, I don't think government officials are the best arbiters of taste in these matters, what I would hope for in terms of design review is opportunity for meaningful input from the immediate community that the development will affect.

M, everything you complain about could be solved simply by zoning neighborhoods R5 or another neighborhood sfr zone, instead of higher density zones. I agree with you, and this is something Jack rails against all the time, but it sounds like you're confusing design review with basic zoning.

M, you stated well my points in my above posts. It is the big picture that needs attention, and the big picture is mostly the underlying zoning and it's variants, not the planning bureau dictating design with "snout house" type of finesse regulations that are totally subject to whim.

It is about sticking a four story monster building covering 80% of a site, while the neighbors are one and two story covering 35% of their sites, with the remaining landscaping.

Or forgetting that the average front yard setback along an existing block is 20 ft. while the new monster is built at 5 ft..

Or the new monster has no parking even though there will be 45 people using the building.

These have little to do with aesthetics, but compatibility.

The problem still does have design components, however. Some of these issues are, can be and should be design issues, but nothing in the design review guidelines addresses them specifically.

Design review is not just about how things look- its supposed to also address community compatibility. You can have smart design in high-density zones that incorporate these concerns. A well-planned, high-density project in an area zoned for mixed use can be great, and what would help encourage this sort of development are design guidelines that address these "fitting in" issues, like parking and other issues of increased density.

I don't like most of the Soviet-style human warehouses that are wrecking Portland

That would have to be the Soviet Club Med. My relatives who left the Soviet Union in the late 70s were living 6 to a one-bedroom apartment.

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