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Plotting a more perfect Portland

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Draft central city plan guides how area looks in future.


TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The Green Loop is envisioned as a six-mile bicycle, jogging and walking route linking both sides of the river. The downtown stretch would be located along the Park Blocks, shown here.Youd think Portland’s central city would be pretty much built up by now — 165 years after the city was incorporated.

Nonetheless, one-third of the land in the inner city is still vacant or underdeveloped, not counting roads and other rights of way. It’s those areas — including lands around the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Lloyd District, Goose Hollow and the Morrison and Hawthorne bridgeheads — that figure to get transformed in the next 20 years, and city planners hope to guide that growth with the release of a new Central City 2035 plan.

Third in a series

Portland vaulted onto the world map for urban planning in 1972 with its renowned Downtown Plan, which envisioned a transit mall along Southwest Fifth and Sixth avenues, a big public gathering place that morphed into Pioneer Courthouse Square, and replacing Harbor Drive with a pedestrian and bike promenade along the Willamette River.

In 1988, the city expanded its horizons beyond downtown with a Central City Plan. That called for expanding the transit mall to the north, adding an esplanade on the east side of the river, creating an industrial sanctuary in the inner eastside, and starting to bring residents to an old railyard area that came to be known as the Pearl District.

Central City 2035, more than five years in the making, is Round Three in Portland’s efforts to reshape its downtown, and it’s out now in draft form, awaiting public reaction.

The draft plan — more than 900 pages — is the most ambitious and “holistic” one yet, says Paddy Tillett, a prominent urban designer with Portland’s ZGF Architects LLP.

“It’s altogether a bigger vision,” Tillett says. “It looks at how inner neighborhoods and outer ones work together and complement each other.”

Unlike flowery plans that often gather dust, this one has teeth: hundreds of pages of proposed zoning and urban design changes for a vast swath of pricey Portland real estate. Prime examples include surface parking lots owned by Portland’s Goodman family, some of which are being rezoned to promote downtown towers.

Next big ideas

Central City 2035, like the two plans preceding it, has its share of what planners are calling “big ideas.” One is the “Green Loop,” a six-mile promenade for pedestrians, joggers and bicyclists. Those people could meander along a vibrant shop-lined boulevard, running north along the Park Blocks to the Broadway Bridge, down through the inner eastside and back downtown over the Tilikum Crossing.

Another big idea is the Innovation Quadrant. Planners hope to lure 21st-century health and tech jobs spun off from the Oregon Health & Science University, its emerging Knight Cancer Research Center and Portland State University, on lands just across the river near OMSI. Industrial zoning there is being expanded to allow a broader mix of employers.

The plan also calls for new ways to link downtown to the Willamette River, by, for example, allowing coffee shops, boat-rental kiosks or other retail uses at Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

An overriding theme is accommodating a surge of new residents. Planners expect the central city will accommodate 30 percent of Portland’s population growth over the next 20 years, on a land mass that’s only 3 percent of the city.

“We really expect the number of residential units in the central city to double,” says Joe Zehnder, the city’s chief planner. “And we’re going to use this to create complete neighborhoods.”

Most development will be handled by the private sector, Zehnder says, but Central City 2035 helps provide the “bones” to work from. “We make very important investments in the bones,” he says.

Here are some of the key features:

• Protect the river while recognizing it as jewel of the central city

The plans calls for doubling the setback — a strip of land where active development can’t take place — from 25 feet to 50 feet. A new environmental overlay zone would bring added natural resource protections. Property owners who preserve open space would get the right to build taller buildings elsewhere.

Strict 1972-era building-height limits at the Morrison and Hawthorne bridgeheads would be loosened. The idea is to link downtown and the inner eastside to the river more with clusters of high-rises at the bridgeheads.

Those might include a relocated Multnomah County Courthouse, the James Beard Public Market project and buildings planned by the Goodmans.

“It will expand the lively core of downtown right down to the river,” Tillett says. Short buildings don’t bring enough people to support a vibrant retail environment, he says.

Planners hope to improve public swimming access along the river and lure new river-oriented developments, such as near OMSI.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Vacant acreage near OMSI figures to be one of the central citys hottest redevelopment sites in coming years. More residents, better neighborhoods

Creating a “complete neighborhood” means bringing another dog park to the central city and a public school to the South Waterfront. Old Town/Chinatown would get middle-income residents. Goose Hollow will become a “full-on mixed-use neighborhood,” Zehnder says.

New housing would be encouraged along Naito Parkway and the South Park Blocks, along with Grand Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on the eastside, along the latest streetcar line.

Changing the character of streets

Southwest Jefferson Street would be recast through zoning and streetscape improvements as the “main street” of the Goose Hollow neighborhood, to enable mixed-use and high-density residential with ground-floor shops, says Rachael Hoy, a senior planner on the Central City team.

Salmon Street would be reshaped as a “signature” east-west street connecting residential areas to the west all the way to the river. That area lacks a “main street,” says Mindy Brooks, a city planner. “In the plan we’re thinking it’s Salmon.”

• Affordable housing

By accommodating so many new residents, the central city will take growth pressures off more residential neighborhoods, Zehnder says. Adding to the housing supply, it’s hoped, makes housing less scarce and less expensive.

The Central City 2035 Plan will include a new “density bonus” system, enabling developers to add a few stories to their buildings if they add some affordable housing units, or put money into a fund to support them. A series of other density bonuses will be scrapped, to put more attention on affordable housing.

Green Loop

While still in the discussion phase, planners figure the Green Loop will provide a safe route for casual bicylists, separated from joggers and pedestrians, to meander along an “urban promenade.”

The eastside route is envisioned somewhere between Sixth and Ninth avenues. Planners are thinking big, hoping the Green Loop becomes a signature tourist destination.

Expanding retail district

Through zoning changes and other features, the plan calls for extending the downtown retail core to the north and east toward the river. One provision would require that at least 60 percent of new shop storefronts be glass, up from the current 25 percent, Hoy says.

Central City 2035 incorporates elements from three “quadrant” plans adopted earlier for the westside, inner Northeast and inner Southeast. There also are a host of transportation improvements being considered along with the planning, zoning and urban design changes.

Central City 2035 is a key part of the revised Comprehensive Plan the City Council is expected to approve this year. Approval of the Central City 2035 plan will come slightly later, as the first amendment to the new Comp Plan.

City planners set a high bar with the original Downtown Plan, and hope this is a worthy successor. “This is building on something that was revered nationwide and worldwide,” says Eden Dabbs, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. “I think it’s going to make it a great place not just to work and visit, but a great place to live.”

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@SteveLawTrib


How do we use land in the central city?

33 percent: Streets, other right of way (970 acres)

22 percent: Commercial, mixed-use development (670 acres)

16 percent: Willamette River (490 acres)

13 percent: Industry (375 acres)

9 percent: Employment mixed use (260 acres)

5 percent: Residential (145 acres)

2 percent: Other open space (70 acres)


Find out more

Central City 2035 plan draft: www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/69860

Transportation plans for the central city, including proposed pedestrian, bicycle, transit and road projects: www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/70011

Public comments on the draft are welcome through March 31, via

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Map App: www.portlandmaps.com/bps/mapapp/

Phone: 503-823-4286