BEST PRACTICES: A Guide to the City of Portland Design Review Process

Areas of the city subject to Design Review. With some exceptions, the Design Commission reviews projects in the blue areas. Projects in the purple areas typically only come before the Design Commission if they are appealed. Areas in white are not subject to Design Review.

Design Review Areas in the City of Portland. With some exceptions, the Design Commission reviews projects in the blue areas. Projects in the purple areas typically only come before the Design Commission if they are appealed. Projects in areas shaded white are not currently subject to Design Review, though expansion of Design Review is contemplated as part of the 2035 Comprehensive Plan.

The Portland Design Commission has released a best practices memo “intended to assist applicants successfully complete Portland’s Type III Design Review process” and to give “an understanding as to how the Design Commission upholds the Design Guidelines.” The memo is republished in its entirety below, without edits by Next Portland.

BEST PRACTICES: A Guide to the City of Portland Design Review Process (May 2016)

This Best Practices document is intended to assist applicants successfully complete Portland’s Type III Design Review process. It is intended to increase the level of predictability for applicants by giving them an understanding as to how the Design Commission upholds the Design Guidelines. It is likely that applicants who utilize this document, while also collaborating with Bureau of Development Services (BDS) Planning Staff throughout the process, can lessen the need for redesign and also reduce the number of submittal packets and hearings before the Commission. This document will be updated periodically as it strives to convey to applicants the most up‐to‐date leanings of the current Commission membership.

BDS Planning Staff

BDS Planning Staff fully understand the Design Guidelines and how the Design Commission upholds the guidelines. Their role is to help applicants. So listen to them and heed their advice ‐ for Design Commission consistently agrees with guideline issues identified by staff.

Design Advice Request (DAR)

Scheduling a DAR session early in your project schedule is strongly recommended. Appropriate topics for early conversations include massing options, site organization, active ground level uses and transparency, parking and loading systems and circulation routes, utilities, landscaping and preliminary material selections, and approach to public art if applicable. Also, identify any modifications, exceptions, FAR bonus/transfer, and Bonus height requests your project may be considering. For large and/or complicated cases multiple DAR sessions are typically requested by applicants.

The DAR process is not intended to be an exhaustive process for the applicant in terms of drawing submittals. Therefore, carefully consider which issues you would like feedback on from the Commission and work with BDS Planning Staff to clearly identify these issues.

Share the design options that were explored and why the preferred design is the most responsive to its site and context and how it best meets the design guidelines.

Having clear direction from the Commission through the DAR can significantly help the applicant through the formal Type III Design Review process. With an efficient DAR, it is possible projects can be approved after their first Type III Hearing.

While the Commission is charged with reviewing every project equally and with the same rigor, they have on occasion offered to add an extra meeting date to accelerate low income housing or projects which serve the public (hospitals).

Neighborhood Associations

Make every effort to meet with the applicable neighborhood association and show consideration for their concerns.

TYPE III Design Review

Submittal Packages

Strive for clarity in drawings. Coordinate with BDS Planning Staff on content and verify information needed for submittal packages while reducing the number of pages without sacrificing clarity and readability of the information. The Commission doesn’t need marketing pages or multiple context pages with dozens of photographs or stock images.

Drawing packages should be specific for Design Commission review and not construction documents. Construction details that are provided need to be of sufficient size with their details to be legible and to easily convey their content to the Commission. Providing easily discernible information can result in fewer questions, less discussion, and shortened hearings.

Provide line drawings of all exterior elevations – no shade, shadows, entourage, etc. Distinguish the various materials and building massing with some good old‐fashioned line quality. It is especially important to distinguish between clear glass and other types of spandrel glass. Clearly identify each and every building material (by name – not number) and provide the percentage of each material per exterior elevation on the same page.

Label plans with street names, provide north arrow, scale, section lines, and page numbers. Provide overall dimensions and key dimensions on the site plan, floor plans, elevations, and sections. Provide different colors for the various program elements on the floor plans.

Provide clear concept diagrams to explain your design – this should only require one or two pages. If you provide images of architectural precedents that relate to your concept be sure your design proposal clearly incorporates them. Otherwise, leave them out.

Applicant Presentations at Hearings

You will have 15‐20 minutes to make your presentation. Large (multi‐building/multi‐block) projects will be allowed more time for presentations by approval of the Commission through a request of BDS staff. Do not repeat staff information! There is no need for long introductions, marketing images, or extended explanations of design concepts. Clarity and brevity are hallmarks of an effective presentation. Applicant questions and/or issues should be in alignment with the staff report.

Present the minimum amount of information necessary and have back‐up information at hand to address questions asked by Commission. Consistency between the submitted Type III packet that Design Commission reviews and your PowerPoint presentation is critical when Commissioners are asking questions about drawings on specific pages – make sure the two are coordinated and in sync.

New Information at Hearings

Design Commissioners review the materials submitted to the City Staff prior to the hearing. Do not submit day‐of‐hearing changes or revisions to your project and always expect the Commission to respond during the hearing.

Additional Hearings and Submittal Packets

Focus on Commissioner’s comments and issues from the previous hearing and how the issues have been resolved. Clearly address each issue individually and include the prior design along with the new design proposal on the same page of the submittal and in the same slide image in your presentation.


While it is not uncommon for the Commission to approve staff‐recommended modifications, it is important for the applicant to remember that in order to be granted, they must demonstrate how the specific Design Guideline is better met by this modification (33.825.040).

A request for a modification to the Ground Floor Window Standard is usually accompanied by additional modifications to the Active Ground Floor Use guidelines. Removing active ground floor use and/or transparency and proposing in their place parking spaces, display windows, or back of house functions (e.g. electrical or sprinkler rooms) or bike parking rooms is not supported by Design Commission. Commercial spaces less than 25‐feet deep are discouraged and reviewed on a case‐by‐case basis for compliance with these guidelines.

Dimensions of automobile and bike parking spaces (for wall mounted bikes – reduction from 24″ to 18″ width) are typically approved by Commission.

When supported by the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) modifications to loading zones have been approved by the Design Commission.

Ground Floor Active Use (CCFDG A2, A4, A5, A8, B1, B4, B6, C2, C6, C7, C8, C9)

The Commission views active storefronts and pedestrian zones as more important than parking, loading, or back‐of‐house functions. Active uses on the first floor in commercial corridors are defined as retail, commercial, or true live work units (e.g. Streetcar Lofts at 1030 NW 12th Avenue). Housing‐only units on the ground level are not viewed as active use.

Arcade District (CEID DG A5‐1)

If your project is within the East Burnside Arcade District, then design an arcade into your project – or at least a significant interpretation of the arcade guideline (e.g. Bside6 at East Burnside and SE 6th).

Conway District

If your project is in the Conway District respect the design guidelines for pedestrian zones, parks, and designated plazas identified in the Master Plan. The Design Commission does not support locating buildings or cantilevered building floors into these zones or privatizing them.

Automobiles (CCFDG A5, A8, B1, B2, B3, C2, C6, C8, C9)

Locate automobiles entirely within the building structure and wrap them with active uses to eliminate their negative impact to ground floor. Modifications that result in the reduction of active ground floor uses for parking, loading, or similar functions are not supported by Commission.

Parking Garages (CCFDG A5, A8, B1, B2, B3, C2)

Within a walkable city, garages and loading bays along with their associated service doors often create extended dead space adjacent to public sidewalks. The Commission is very interested in minimizing the length and impact of these zones. The applicant needs to clearly identify the materiality of these doors/gates, their scale and placement, and the placement of their associated alarms, lights, strobes, exhaust vents, and other associated systems. Provide sufficient wall area to accommodate all of these utilitarian elements in an organized manner. Consider screening the glare from interior lighting through garage doors (doors with tight perforated metal or translucent glass) and include cut‐offs or internally directed light fixtures.

For security reasons Design Commission prefers garage and loading doors to be at the exterior wall. When warranted Commission has approved a 4’‐0″ maximum recess depth for garage doors and loading bay doors. Commission prefers overhead doors with translucent glass panels which often continue the glass storefront appearance at the ground level. Garage doors with an open grille are not supported by Design Commission. Solve fresh air intake issues in a different manner. When a speed door is required by PBOT this type of door can have a combination of solid and tight perforated metal slats but, Design Commission does not support the clear plastic slats material option.

Above Grade Parking (which is generally discouraged) – Proposals should be mechanically ventilated and screened with predominate building materials and architectural elements. Good examples of successful building screening include The Gregory at NW 10th and Glisan and the Hilton Executive Tower at SW Taylor and 6th.

Entrances to Ground Floor Housing Units (CCFDG A5, A7, A8, B1, B4, C2, C6, C8)

Where ground floor housing is allowed by the Commission a street facing exterior entrance should be provided to each housing unit that is located on the ground floor. (e.g. north‐facing Eliot Tower units at 1221 SW 10th Avenue, north‐facing Streetcar Lofts units at 1030 NW 12th Avenue)

Projects with Multiple Buildings (CCFDG A5, C2, C4)

In multiple building projects, Commission is looking for buildings have unique characteristics.

Weather protection (CCFDG B6)

Weather protection is meant for all pedestrians. Therefore, weather protection in the form of canopies extending from the building, is required, at a minimum, at all building and lease space entrances. Canopies can also be combined with building recesses to form a more generous entrance. Projects along heavy pedestrian streets should include additional weather protection for the passing pedestrian, while not being compromised by storefront “spill out” activities. Ensure the canopy height is in scale with the building composition. Be generous in meeting this guideline.

Design for Coherency (CCFDG C5)

Design Commission is looking for consistency in the applicant’s design concept ‐ from massing, to the composition, to material selection and application, and into the details. Proposals that often require significant changes are ones that are overly complicated, inconsistent with the application of their own concept, do not respond to their site or context, or substitute graphic design for architecture.

Quality and Permanence (CCFDG C2)

Longevity of building materials and how well they are detailed is a critical measure of any project’s long term success.

Design Commission strongly supports the selection of high quality materials such as brick, stone, pre‐cast concrete, glass‐fiber‐reinforced concrete, and composite metal panel systems with concealed fastener systems. Thin brick/stone systems, cement wood board, and synthetic stucco have not been favorably received by the Commission.

Metal wall cladding – Metal cladding needs to be a high quality finish and thickness to ensure rigidity and avoid “oil‐canning” or “pillowing” of the exterior surfaces.

Fiber cement – Although fiber cement siding and panels are not supported by all Commissioners they can be approved when limited in application. If utilized, the fiber cement product must have a robust thickness. The maximum area supported by Design Commission is in alignment with Type II staff reviews which is approximately 10% of the wall area. Fiber cement materials should be installed within recessed areas of the building (e.g. at decks), surrounded by more permanent materials, and not installed at the ground floor. Utilize concealed, rather than exposed fasteners, along with pre‐manufactured channels at all edges.

Wood – Wood should be used in a manner that protects it from direct contact with rain and is not supported as a primary wall cladding material. Acceptable applications include areas protected by a ceiling, building overhang, deck, or within a building setback. In addition, it should be raised off of the ground plain enough so as not to be degraded by power washing of adjacent sidewalks.

Weathered Steel – Corten or weathered steel should not be used within the touch zone and where used should include a design such that the occurant rust does not stain adjacent materials.

Details for any material should aim to be designed to be durable and to perform with minimal maintenance over time in support of the guideline for permanence.

Public Art (CCFDG A5, A8, B1, C2)

When art is required as part of a Public Percent for Art project or encouraged through Design Guidelines the Commission will be very interested in hearing the urban design criteria, budget, selection process, and timeline for the art. It is always recommended that the applicant meet EARLY with the Public Art Staff of the Regional Arts and Cultural Council, The Oregon Arts Commission, or the regulatory body charged with the project’s art administration prior to their first DAR presentation before Design Commission. Contact:

Mechanical/Utilities (CCFDG B2, C1, C2, C5, C11)

If proposed, through‐wall HVAC units should be integrated into the window and door systems and provide a high quality, custom louver of similar finish to the windows and doors.

Rooftop/penthouse screening of mechanical systems is generally not necessary for a few small to mid‐size rooftop units. However, large units and large amounts of any size units, along with associated mechanical/electrical/plumbing systems, will likely need to be screened. These systems need to be organized and located as to minimize their impact on adjacent buildings and views from above and from afar. Typically, the screen is the same color as the body of the building.

Locate gas meters within the building. The gas regulator can be located within a secondary building/door recess that fronts a pedestrian zone.

Design Commission supports transformer vaults underground in the R.O.W and an acceptable vault cover has now been developed and approved by PBOT. Transformers located at exterior walls are not supported.

Provide the cubic feet per minute of air movement (intake and exhaust) for louvers located at the ground level. High quality, custom louvers/grilles are recommended by the Commission when located within the pedestrian zone. Always minimize the scale of the louvers when possible.

End wall conditions should be considered and clad with higher quality materials. A delay in cladding the end wall could be possible if an adjacent project is pending.

Measuring Public Benefit

The Commission continues to set a very high bar for the granting of FAR transfers and height bonuses. Applicants should be aware that the Commission believes strongly that the “public benefit” should be applied to the immediate adjacent blocks and/or neighborhood and in most cases result in physical improvements that are tied to issuance of building permit for the requesting project.

Skybridges are discouraged.


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