The Bosco-Milligan Foundation/Architectural Heritage Center has filed an appeal of Portland’s Central City 2035 Plan with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals in an effort to protect the city’s New Chinatown/Japantown historic district and to protest the lack of public participation in recent city council actions.
The appeal pertains to a city council vote that opens the door for out-of-scale, incompatible development in one of the most diverse and culturally significant districts in the city. On June 6, 2018 the Portland City Council passed a last minute amendment to rezone almost half of the New Chinatown/Japantown historic district, whose buildings stand at 2-3 stories, and raise height limits in the district to 200 feet. This is well above the height of any of the historic or more recent buildings in the area.
The June 6 amendment disregarded many years of work by the city staff, the public, and the Planning and Sustainability Commission to establish sound height limits in the historic district at 125 feet (about 12 stories).
The Council’s actions in the district have been confusing, to say the least. Originally they supported the work of the Planning and Sustainability Commission to set height limits in the district at 125 feet. Then the Council made some revisions for a single block (Block 33), allowing it a maximum height of 160 feet. Finally, at the last minute and without opportunity for public testimony, the Council voted to increase the height of this one block—and an additional four full blocks—to 200 feet. There was no prior public notice or opportunity for the public to weigh in on the change, which is a violation of the public process.
The AHC is supportive of compatible, new development that creates affordable housing and brings new vitality to districts such as New Chinatown/Japantown, but the Council’s actions set a dangerous precedent for zoning in historic districts throughout the city and also undermine public process. The Bosco-Milligan Foundation/Architectural Heritage Center rarely appeals after the City Council acts, at least partially because of the expense. In this case, however, the City’s actions were so egregious that our organization’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to support the appeal.
The AHC is joined in the appeal with co-petitioners Restore Oregon, the Portland Chinatown Museum (part of the Portland Chinatown History Foundation) and the Oregon Nikkei Endowment. The Old Town Community Association plans to join the appeal and file as an intervenor.
To learn more about the history of New Chinatown/Japantown, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, consult the National Register nomination.