The City of Portland is in the process of finalizing its Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code, which will govern development in the City over the next 20 years.  The new Comprehensive Plan, adopted in June 2016, is based on a new Urban Design Framework that directs future growth to dense urban centers and corridors, rather than large-lot commercial and single-family neighborhoods that have characterized Portland’s outer neighborhoods.

It is important that Portland property owners develop at least a rudimentary understanding of the proposed land use regulations, which may substantially affect their properties.

Portland’s code revisions touch virtually all of its land use types, including multifamily, commercial, industrial, institutional, and Central City development.  These changes will significantly alter the regulations by which land is developed and used throughout the City, and on balance, place more restrictions on most development types than currently exist. 

The Plan will be the governing document for land use decisions in the City and will be implemented by a revised Portland Zoning Code, set forth in Title 33 of the Portland City Code (PCC).  Although all land use decisions must be in conformance with the Plan, the PCC is where the rubber meets the road for most developers, real estate professionals, and citizens.

The Plan and Code must be approved (“acknowledged”) by the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission, whose decision is subject to review in the Oregon appellate courts. Barring appeals, the new Code will become effective in late 2017 or early 2018. Inclusionary Housing will come into effect on February 1, 2017.

Key dates:

  • February 2017: Inclusionary zoning regulations go into effect, affecting multifamily properties with more than 20 units
  • Late 2017/early 2018: New zoning code becomes effective
  • January 2018: Last chance to get building or land use permits approved under current rules—Schwabe recommends starting due diligence work now as the City could be inundated with applications prior to the effective date


The primary risk caused by the new zoning code is the specter of nonconforming status. Nonconformity increases the long-term risks and costs associated with expanding or selling property. It can also affect property owners’ ability to replace a like property in case of fire or casualty.

Common examples of nonconformity include parking and circulation layout, ground floor windows, and active ground floor uses.

The steps property owners should take:

  1. Use the City’s Map App to see how your properties are affected: The City’s Map App allows you to explore how area properties are impacted. Simply visit the site, select “Composite Zoning Proposal” and enter the property address to determine the existing and proposed zoning.
  2. Begin due diligence work now on properties you’d like to develop, remodel or expand under current zoning: The new zoning code will become effective in late 2017 or early 2018.  If you are planning or considering redevelopment, remodeling, or expansion of your property, it is still possible to do so under the current zoning regulations by submitting a land use application (if required) or building permit application prior to the effective date.  It is advisable to begin design and due diligence work on such projects as soon as possible, as there will likely be a large volume of projects submitted prior to the January 2018 effective date.

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