BY IAIN MACKENZIE
In 1922 Euclid, Ohio adopted a zoning ordinance that included six classes of use, intended to preserve to the village character of the Cleveland suburb. Industry would be kept away from residential uses, and building heights would be limited. While Frank Lloyd Wright's Broadacre City and Le Corbusier's Ville Radieuse are probably more famous examples of city planning based on separation of uses, Euclid's zoning ordinance ultimately became the more influential. A large landowner sued the municipality, arguing that in limiting the development potential of their site Euclid had unconstitutionally deprived them of their ability to develop their site with an industrial use.
The case made it all the Supreme Court. In the 1926 case Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. the court sided with the village, establishing the broad precedent that single-use zoning was permissible. While there are other types of zoning used in the US, the model used by Euclid is by far the most common, and is often referred to by planners as Euclidean zoning.
Around the same time, Portland was writing its first zoning code, firmly based on the emerging Euclidean tradition. The 1924 code didn't regulate many of the things we now expect to find in a zoning code, such as heights, setbacks or density. It did separate the city into four zones, based on use: Class I-Single Family; Class II-Multi-family; Class III-Business-manufacturing; and Class IV-Unrestricted. Many of the decisions made almost a century ago are still evident in the way Portland is developing today. The 1924 code applied the Business-manufacturing zone to the streetcar lines and arterial roads, while limiting the areas in between them to single or multifamily development. The Class I-Single Family zone was generally applied to the most prestigious neighborhoods, such as Eastmoreland, Laurelhurst, Irvington and Alameda. Plus ça change...
Extract of a draft version of Portland’s first zoning code, published in the August 5th 1923 edition of the Oregonian. The areas with the diagonal dash are Class I Residential zones, the gridded areas are Class II-Multi-family zones, and the areas with dots are Class III-Business-manufacturing districts.
The area now known as the Central Eastside was entirely mapped with the Class III-Business manufacturing zone, which allowed all but the heaviest and most undesirable of industries. Uses allowed at the time included apartments, offices, warehouses, breweries, bakeries, wholesale stores, machine shops and sauerkraut manufacturing plants. (With the possible exception of sauerkraut manufacturing, all of those are found there today.)
The 1924 code would have allowed almost unlimited growth in the Central Eastside had there been demand for it. Instead, the opposite happened. The last big hurrah was the 175-foot-tall Weatherly Building, completed in 1928, the year prior to the start of the Great Depression, from a design by noted Portland architect Richard Sundeleaf. The major urban renewal projects of the mid-century happened outside of the district. As this map beautifully illustrates, most of the buildings in the area were built in the late 19th or early 20th centuries; the only part of the district where post-war buildings make up a majority of the building stock is the area south of Hawthorne Boulevard In the 1960s and distribution of goods shifted from rail to road. Multi-story warehouses that were designed for the unloading of goods from railway cars by hand became surplus as large distributors moved to the suburbs. The City's 1980 Comprehensive Plan designated the area as an “industrial sanctuary” in an effort to grow industrial employment in the area. In retrospect it was an easy designation to make, when there were so few competing demands on the land.
By the time of Portland's third zoning code, adopted in 1991 and still in effect today, the district had been primarily zoned as IG1 - General Industrial. The less restrictive EX - Central Employment zone was applied to most properties along Burnside, Morrison and the Grand/MLK couplet. While the EX zone allows housing, by the City's own description “residential uses are allowed, but are not intended to predominate or set development standards”. This was however largely irrelevant, given that in the 20 plus years following the adoption of the new code almost no housing units were built in the area. In 2014 the 1,465 households in the Central Eastside were almost all located in pre-war apartments or single-family homes on the district's eastern fringe. This is now changing, rapidly.
The first large residential developments in the Central Eastside were built in 2011 along the Burnside/Couch corridor, but the conflict between industrial and residential demands came to a head in 2014 with the Design Commission's approval of the Goat Blocks. The superblock site bound by SE Belmont, 12th, Taylor and 11th was once the site of the Farmers and Ranchers Association Building, which burned down in 2002. The property became well known from 2010 on when developer Killian Pacific placed a herd of a goats on the site to keep the weeds down. The project now under construction will include 247 apartments and 97,000 square feet of retail, including grocery store Market of Choice and Orchard Supply hardware. While many in Portland were upset to see the goats go, it was the fact that the site would be developed with housing that angered the Central Eastside Industrial Council, who appealed the approval to the City Council. Of particular concern to the industrial users was whether trucks would still be able maneuver around the site once the street was narrowed and the sidewalk widened, to meet current standards. The City Council upheld the decision, and the project is on course to open in 2017.
Other residential projects were soon to follow. In 2015 the Design Commission approved another two substantial buildings on the lower Morrison/Belmont corridor. 9th and Belmont by Ankrom Moisan will be located on a site immediately to the east of Grand Central Bowl, and include 105 residential units as well as ground floor retail. The Modera Belmont by SERA Architects will replace a single story building between 6th and 7th, mostly recently occupied by the Oregon Ballet Theater. The 6 story building will include 200 residential units over ground-floor retail.
The tallest project planned along the corridor is the Grand Belmont, which could include 193 units in a 14-story tower. Unlike the projects above, which were reviewed by the Design Commission, Grand Belmont is located in the the East Portland Grand Avenue Historic District and is therefore reviewed by the Historic Landmarks Commission. That a 158-foot-tall building would ever be proposed in the district clearly came as a shock to the Landmarks Commission, despite zoned height limits of up 275’. (If development pressure was low in the Central Eastside as a whole, it was nearly nonexistent in the historic district: the Jacksons convenience store at SE Washington and Grand appears to be the only building built in the district since the adoption of the district Design Guidelines in 1994.) The Grand Belmont has gone before the Commission for Design Advice twice: once with a more contemporary design; and once with a slightly shorter and more historic design. While the façade shown in the second design drew more praise from the Commission, they remained extremely worried about the heights shown, leading to questions over whether the Commission even has the power to regulate heights stated in the zoning code.
Should the Grand Belmont move forward into the Design Review phase it will clearly have a challenging path to approval. Assuming it makes it through the process, it will join the other three approved buildings on Belmont in adding over 700 units to the Central Eastside. These buildings alone will likely result in a 50% increase in the residential population of the Central Eastside over its 2014 numbers.
Slightly further to the north will be the St Francis Park apartments by MWA Architects, which will include 106 affordable units on St Francis Park, which was recently sold by the adjacent church. The project by Catholic Charities and Home Forward first went before the Design Commission for advice in late 2014, with a design that included an exterior almost entirely comprised of fiber cement board and batten siding. When the project returned for its first Design Review hearing in October the fiber cement had been replaced with ribbed metal siding, at a not insignificant additional cost. At a time of a declared housing emergency the project raises a question that is likely to become increasingly prominent: is it better to spend finite housing dollars on delivering high quality affordable housing, that blends in with its market rate neighbors (the strategy used in the Pearl); or should the dollars be used to deliver as much housing as possible?
Just as the Central Eastside has become more popular to live in, more and more companies are choosing to locate in the area. For a time there was an ample supply of disused warehouses that could be converted into so called ‘creative office’ space. With fewer old heavy timber buildings left to convert, the strategy now seems to be to build new ones. 811 Stark by Works Partnership follows on from their recently completed FrameWork building, and will offer 24,000 sq ft of office space with an exposed wood structure.
At 240 SE Clay Street, Killian Pacific are building on another site left long vacant following a fire. Clay Creative by Mackenzie (pictured at the top of this post) will offer 60,000 square feet of office space, also with exposed heavy timber framing. At the perimeter of its parking lot the project will incorporate portions of the walls from the original Taylor Electric building warehouse. The construction of so much office space in an industrial zone would not be possible absent the adoption of the Employment Opportunity Subarea (EOS) in 2006, which allows the creation of up to 60,000 square feet of “industrial office” in a small area of the Central Eastside (outlined in orange in the map above). The EOS undoubtedly helped contribute to the job growth the Central Eastside saw throughout the recession, though many of those jobs were in fields such as design and software engineering, not traditionally located in the area.
As part of the ongoing (and seemingly never ending) Comprehensive Plan update the SE Quadrant Plan went before the City Council in July. The plan will help shape of the district for the next 20 years, and will result in significant revisions to the zoning code. When the Council was asked whether its priority was to prioritize job growth in the district, protect existing industrial users or to allow the district to soak up part of the region's housing demand it appeared to say “yes” in an effort to please everyone.
The most controversial part of the plan was expansion of the EOS, which will allow new office buildings throughout the district. Those who were most skeptical about the expansion were the traditional industrial users, many of whom had located in the district in the ‘80s or ‘90s when space was cheap to lease or buy. Today the Central Eastside is an increasingly desirable area to build residences or offices in, and industrial users are feeling squeezed. When Euclidean Zoning began in the early 20th century its purpose was to minimize the impact of industrial uses on residential areas. As the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability begins work on a new zoning code for the area, based on the SE Quadrant Plan, the biggest question will be whether the they can craft a code that minimizes the impact of residential uses on industrial areas.