OP-ED: Climate-friendly and Equitable Communities Coming to Urban Areas

April 15, 2022

Gov. Kate Brown on March 10, 2020 issued Executive Order 20-04, which directs state agencies to take actions to reduce and regulate greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the Oregon Legislature’s goal of achieving greenhouse gas levels at least 75 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. In response, the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) and the Land Conservation and Development Commission launched “Climate-Friendly and Equitable Communities” rulemaking to facilitate the development of walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods in Oregon’s eight urban areas with populations exceeding 50,000 people (Albany, Bend, Corvallis, Eugene/Springfield, Grants Pass, Medford/Ashland, Portland Metro and Salem/Keizer). No significant rule changes will occur for communities outside those areas. The rules were initiated at the commission’s September 2020 meeting with the aim of adopting them in May 2022.

The centerpiece of the Climate-Friendly and Equitable Communities rulemaking requires cities with populations greater than 50,000 within the seven metropolitan areas outside of Portland to designate “climate-friendly areas.” The Portland Metro region has implemented similar requirements to the proposed climate-friendly areas, and those rules will operate differently in that region and will reinforce the existing Climate Smart Communities program.

Climate-friendly areas are envisioned as places where residents, workers and visitors can meet most of their daily needs without driving. These will be mixed-use urban areas that contain a mix of housing, jobs, businesses and services that are served by high-quality pedestrian, bicycle and transit infrastructure. Specifically, climate-friendly areas will reduce reliance on vehicle trips by providing more proximate destinations within climate-friendly zones, improved connectivity to key destinations elsewhere in the community, and enhanced alternative transportation options. Each local government will determine the location of these zones, but the DLCD believes many will likely be in areas that currently allow mixed uses and higher densities, such as existing downtowns.

The proposed rules provide a process for local governments to designate climate-friendly areas and adopt development standards for these areas. They also provide minimum requirements for these climate-friendly areas: outright permits for multifamily residences, attached single-family residences, offices, non-auto-dependent retail and other commercial uses, child care facilities, schools and other public uses. As a result, the proposed rules will likely result in increased building heights, increased density and more complex multifamily building types, once local governments ultimately implement the proposed rules through the adoption of new zoning regulations and amendments to their comprehensive plans.

The Climate-Friendly and Equitable Communities rules also update Oregon’s state transportation planning requirements and require local governments in Oregon’s eight urban areas to update their Transportation System Plans (TSPs). These updates include plans for more significant development in transit corridors and downtowns and prioritization of investment in walking, bicycling and transit infrastructure to allow people to reach destinations without a motor vehicle. The proposed rules also provide a mechanism to monitor and report progress toward these stated goals regularly.

The proposed rules also reform existing parking requirements by allowing for the reduction or removal of parking mandates for certain desired types of development (i.e., smaller housing, small businesses, child care facilities, multifamily housing and historic buildings).

In addition, the rules would remove parking mandates where parking demand is lower, such as areas with high concentrations of jobs and housing and walkable areas that are well served by public transportation. The proposed rules also allow for preferential parking for carpools and vanpools.

The proposed rules also address negative impacts associated with large parking lots, such as the heat island effect. Specifically, they require large parking lots to have pedestrian friendly designs and include either solar power or additional trees. While the rules give each community various options to improve parking management, the local governments that adopt best practices are given more flexibility. The proposed rules also require 50 percent of new residential parking spaces to be capable of electric vehicle charging;
however, the proposed rules do not require wiring or actual electric vehicle chargers.

While adoption of the proposed rules is expected in May 2022, local governments will then be tasked with implementation of these rules through revisions to their respective ordinances, codes and TSPs. Most pedestrian and infrastructure updates will occur only when a local government prepares a major update to its TSP.

Still, the rules do not provide an outside date for these major updates. In contrast, the land use components of the rules, like the designation of climate-friendly areas, have specific deadlines. Local governments are tasked with studying potential climate-friendly areas by June 30, 2023, and adopting climate-friendly areas by June 30, 2024. Parking reform will happen in two phases: the first by the end of 2022 and the second by March 31, 2023.

This column is intended to provide readers with general information and not legal advice. Consult professional counsel for help regarding specific situations.

Column first appeared in the Oregon Daily Journal of Commerce on April 15, 2022.

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