Focus: the language of development in Portland

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between the Portland Development Commission and the Design Commission; between the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and the Bureau of Development Services; or between the Building Code and the Zoning Code? At Next Portland we try to avoid using too much jargon, but there are certain terms that we’ve found get used in our posts more than others. Below we’ve compiled a list of some of the more commonly used terms that are particular to development in Portland. If there are any other terms that should be added please let us know in the comments.

  • Adjustment Review: Land Use Review where objective standards found in the Zoning Code may be modified due to the particular needs of a site or development. Adjustment Reviews are performed by the Bureau of Development Services through a Type II procedure, or may be performed by the Design Commission or Historic Landmarks Commission as a concurrent part of a Type III Design Review or Historic Resource Review.
  • Approval Criteria: Set of guidelines against which a Land Use Review is reviewed. The burden of proof is on the applicant to prove that they have met the Approval Criteria. These may include the Central City Fundamental Design Guidelines in Downtown Portland, or the Community Design Guidelines in other neighborhoods.
  • Building Code: Set of regulations for how a building should be designed and constructed. Primarily concerned with safety of the building’s occupants. Issues such as how the building might affect the broader context of the neighborhood or city are typically dealt with in the Zoning Code. The applicable building code in Portland is the ‘Oregon Structural Specialty Code’ for most non-residential buildings.
  • Building Permit: Permit issued by the Bureau of Development Services to allow the construction of a new building. During the building permit review the project is reviewed against the Zoning Code, the Building Code and other codes that may apply. Construction may not start until a building permit is issued. A building permit will not be issued until any required Land Use Reviews have been approved and recorded with Multnomah County. Larger or more complicated projects may have work split into multiple building permits.
  • Bureau of Development Services: City bureau responsible for development review and inspections of buildings when under construction. Reviews projects for compliance with the Zoning Code and the Building Code. Does not do long range range planning, which is the responsibility of the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability.
  • Bureau of Planning & Sustainability: City bureau responsible for long range planning, including writing the Comprehensive Plan and the Zoning Code.
  • Community Design Standards: A set of objective standards that some projects can be reviewed against instead of having to go through Design Review.
  • Community Design Guidelines: Set of Approval Criteria used during Design Review in Design Districts that do not have guidelines written specifically for them.
  • Comprehensive Plan: Long term plan that guides growth and development in Portland. Documents such as the Zoning Code are based on the general principles outlined in the Comprehensive Plan.
  • Conditional Use Review: Land Use Review to determine whether to approve a use neither explicitly allowed or prohibited in the Zoning Code. Required where a use may have potential impacts on an area, beyond what is normally expected. Examples include a school in a residential zone or housing in an industrial zone. Conditional Use Reviews may be performed by the Bureau of Development in a Type II case or by the Hearings Officer in a Type III case.
  • Design Advice: Optional hearing in front of the Design Commission or Historic Landmarks Commission, prior to submitting a project for a full Design Review. Projects can be reviewed at an earlier stage, while concepts may still be evolving.
  • Design Commission: Volunteer body that conducts Design Review for new buildings and major alternations to existing buildings. Also offers guidance to the City Council and other City agencies on issues relating to urban design.
  • Design District: Area where Design Review is required, indicated by a lowercase “d” in the Zoning Code map. In some areas developers may use the Community Design Standards in lieu of going through Design Review. In areas where Design Review is not required a project is only required to conform with the minimum requirements of the Zoning Code.
  • Design Review: Land Use Review performed for new buildings or exterior alterations to existing buildings in a Design District. Projects are reviewed against a set of Approval Criteria to determine whether they warrant approval. Design Review may be performed by the Bureau of Development Services in a Type II case or by the Design Commission in a Type III case. The type of review required is determined by the valuation of the project and the location in the city.
  • Early Assistance: Optional meeting with Bureau of Development Services staff to answer questions prior to submittal of a Building Permit or Land Use Review. A meeting where infrastructure bureaus also attend may be requested.
  • Land Use Review: A discretionary review where it is determined whether a proposal meets regulations regarding how a property can be used. Land Use Reviews are reviewed against Approval Criteria stipulated by the Zoning Code. Because this requires a degree of subjectivity Oregon law requires that the public must be notified and allowed the opportunity to comment on the proposal. Land Use Reviews include Design Review, Historic Resource Review and Adjustment Review, amongst others. Depending on the scale and complexity of the project a Land Use Review may be processed through a Type I, Ix, II, III or IV review.
  • Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA): Statewide appeal body for decisions made by local jurisdictions during Land Use Reviews. Evidence presented at LUBA must have been presented during the original Land Use Review for it to be considered relevant.
  • Hearings Officer: Administrative officer who performs public Land Use hearings, including Conditional Use Reviews and changes to the Zoning on a site.
  • Historic District: Area of historic significance listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Buildings in the district are listed as ‘contributing’ or ‘non contributing’ to the district.
  • Historic Landmarks Commission: Volunteer body that conducts Historic Resource Review for new buildings in Historic Districts and major alternations to existing buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also offers guidance to the City Council and other City agencies on issues relating to historic preservation.
  • Historic Resources Inventory: Citywide survey completed in 1984, which documented historic buildings. Does not include properties in areas of the city annexed after 1984. Inclusion of a building on the Historic Resources inventory offers little protection to the building unless it is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places or is identified as ‘contributing’ to a Historic District.
  • Historic Resource Review: Land Use Review performed for new buildings in Historic Districts or for exterior alterations to buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Projects are reviewed against a set of Approval Criteria to determine whether they warrant approval. Historic Resource Review may be performed by the Bureau of Development Services in a Type II case or by the Historic Landmarks Commission in a Type III case. The type of review required is determined by the valuation of the project and the location in the city.
  • Home Forward: County agency who owns and manages affordable housing complexes, and administers Section 8 vouchers. Formerly the Housing Authority of Portland.
  • Housing Authority of Portland: See Home Forward.
  • National Register of Historic Places: Official list kept by the National Parks Service of districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects deemed worthy of preservation.
  • Portland Development Commission: City agency responsible for economic development, who also administer Portland’s Urban Renewal Areas. Does not issue Building Permits or perform Land Use Reviews.
  • Portland Housing Bureau: City bureau responsible for administering Portland’s funding for affordable housing. Unlike Home Forward does not directly manage affordable housing.
  • Pre-Application Conference: An early opportunity for an applicant to meet with City technical Bureaus including (but not limited to) the Bureau of Development Services, the Portland Bureau of Transportation and the Bureau of Environmental Services. Required before Type III reviews, and optional before other types of review. No decisions are made at a Pre-Application Conference, though applicants are advised about what may be required going forward. The public are allowed to attend, but the main purpose is to give information to the applicant.
  • Type I, Ix, II or IIx: Land Use Review where the initial decision is made at administrative level, typically by a staffer at the Bureau of Development Services. Decisions may be appealed to the relevant appeal body, which may include the Design Commission or Hearings Officer.
  • Type III: Land Use Review where the initial decision is made at a public hearing, such as the ones held by the Design Commission. Decisions may be appealed to the City Council.
  • Type IV: Land Use Review where the initial decision is made by the City Council. The only current Type IV procedure is for the demolition of a building either listed on the National Register of Historic Places or as a contributing structure in a Historic District.
  • Zoning Code: Set for regulations for how a piece of land can be used, which may include the type of use allowed, the maximum height, and maximum or minimum setbacks from the property line. Does not regulate building safety or construction, which is largely covered by the Building Code. The Zoning Code contains both objective and subjective standards. The objective standards (such as a how tall a building can be) can be reviewed as part of a Building Permit application. The subjective standards (such as whether a building fits into its neighborhood) must be reviewed as part of a Land Use Review.

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