« Are Tram Foes Eating Crow Yet? | Main | King Holds Court Tonight »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


For me, the design review process if flawed as it is a snapshot redesign. By that I mean that a development team goes through dozens of "what ifs" and design options and submits the one that solves the problems best. The desing review person then asks the same questions the development team asked and/or demands revisions that may not be in line with the overall program. Unless these officials want to come to ALL of the design meetings they should simply review the plans to make sure they weed out the worst crap and leave the others to the people who did the work.


Housing would be a lot more affordable if the city loosened up a little. Instead, one arm of the city seems to be working to make things as hard and expensive as possible, and another arm uses tens of millions of our property tax dollars to subsidize "affordable" housing.


If the neighborhood association is OK with it and it provides some decent affordable housing, why oh why can't the City pull its head out and look at the bigger picture? Make no mistake, I'm ALL for design review, but honestly! The ODS (odious?) Tower and its Franken-tree got the green light but not this?


Brian, I think you may be mistaken here.
With a little research regarding the zoning for the site in question, here's what I found.
It is typical that building heights are required to be lower when adjacent to R zoned lots, depending on the buildings proximity to the property line. In this situation, a site zoned EX, a building 15ft tall can be built directly to the property line of an R zoned lot, while a building greater than 46 feet tall must be 14ft away from the property line at the R lot. Buildings greater than 11ft but closer than 14ft must be 45 tall max. This is a very simple component of the zoning code.


Perhaps this is a situation of the developer and his architect not knowing the code very well...
Let's try to understand the situation better before blaming the city again.

Of course this isn't journalism, right? so there's no real reason to do any research...especially when the zoning code is available free on line.


Truth is wrong. The building does meet the city's 14' setback requirement, it is allowed by code.

Skinny City Girl

Not always the City's fault, not always the developers fault. But the smart developers know it's worth the up front cost to get a professional entitlement coordinator who can identify these kinds of issues long before the design is dialed in.


Thanks for clarifying. Perhaps you can provide some more insight that Brian could not.
Is the building asking for any modifications or adjustments to the zoning code?



In writing this post, I was passing on the experiences of the developer as relayed to me. If I've erred in reporting the facts about height regulations, I appreciate the correction.

However, I'm disappointed you felt the need to make that last jibe about blogging and research. You seem to comment here a lot, and that's great. I'd hoped it would be clear that this post, like many, was more of a question to readers than an answer. It's not so simple as just retrieving one magic-bullet fact about the codes.

You seem to feel the city is being unfairly taken to task. That very well may be the case. That said, people staking their livelihoods on development are showing frustration and confusion about the codes. I feel a responsibility to pass those concerns on to whomever at the city or in the design community will listen. If the developer and architect are merely mistaken about what's allowed, I think that would have become apparent over their many months of negotiation with the city.

Jeff Joslin


If your interest was primarily to pass concerns on to the City, perhaps contacting the City prior to promulgating presumptions would be in order. I've been nothing but open and accessible throughout the history of this forum, and would always welcome the opportunity to shed additional light on the processes I administer.

Throughout this particular process, we've attempted to be consistent and clear in articulating the challenge at hand. The proposal is for a 22 unit project on a 5000 square foot site adjacent to an extremely modestly scaled and texture single family neighborhood. A primary purpose of the design review process is to ensure projects respect, and are integrated succesfully, into the respective context. This is not a style issue, and this has been repeatedly stated throughout the process. It is an issue about appropriate scalar relationships.

It's understandable that one might believe the Code is the Code. However, there are multiple regulations at work, and all must be met. When forwarding a project that is pioneering and pushing the edge of a number of envelopes, early dialogue would be typical and appropriate. The Design Review team is fully available for such contact. In this case, unfortunately, that early contact did not occur. The builder/developer received concerns as soon as possible following submission, but this was apparently late in his process, following substantial commitment to a particular approach.

We're still hopeful that a project of significant scale and quality can emerge here. However; the magnitude of the project, the parti employed, and the sensitive context are at odds.

One purpose of the process is to ensure these regulations are applied consistently and fairly. In this shifting market and environment, that's no small challenge. This project raised issues that have been discussed at length: within this site, with the broader community, at Planning Commission and the City Council, and in numerous discussions about particular related projects before the Design Commission. We will continue to do our best to serve these multitudinous masters on a case-by-case basis, and are genuinely hopeful that this project team will continue to work with us to find a viable and fitting solution for this particular location.

Jeff Joslin
Land Use Manager:
Design Review/Historic Design Review
City of Portland
Bureau of Development Services


This is a quite a nice looking building; the square windows, the external staircase, the street level entry doors. Looks like it has really high ceilings...great for cooling in hot summers.

I don't know what the surrounding neighborhood looks like, so it's hard for me to say that the 65' height all around should be such a big issue.

I have to say though, that I like the '45 limit where the building butts up against R-2 housing. I'm guessing that housing is maybe older 2 story wood frame single family dwellings? That step down could potentially mean a reduction in amount of solar exposure loss to the lots/housing behind this building.

Interesting that only two people objected to the proposal. I suppose some people are inclined to think 'if the neighborhood doesn't object, why not?'. Maybe, but guidelines that support the creation of a consciously recognized, sought after kind of neighborhood environment are worth considering very carefully.

I hope the developer can come up with a solution that will accommodate the design specs. How high are those ceilings? If they're 10' or 12', maybe the back building could have simple 8' ceilings.


The problem with Design Review is that it is subjective and codes for the most part are not. Who is to say what the right relationship is between 2-story wood framed houses from the early 20th century and new multi-family condos in the 21st? We are talking about a 3 story difference, which in most cities exist everywhere. What about the 5 story building going up on Belmont next to the Lone Fir Cemetery? What kind of scale and material context is that building relating to? I don't see very many building over two stories in that area and certainly none of that size. It's huge and probably going in because the dead don't complain.


Truth is, that the building was designed to meet the written code, we purposely did not ask for any variances, adjustments or modifications to the zoning requirements. This was done to try to ensure a smooth review process. Likewise, we met with the neighborhood early and often, to get their feedback. My early meetings with the planning department verified that we were allowed to build to 65'.

Jeff Joslin

In answer to Aneeda - the project by the Lone Fir is in an area that is not subject to Design Review - therefore the only regulations that need to be met are prescriptive (i.e. - the Zoning Code and safety codes). This is not unlike the small brick condo project a little further east that was flamed earlier on this site, where the hovering question was: why weren't they required to do better?


I really hope something can be worked out, I bike past that site everyday and the proposed design would be a great addition to the neighborhood.

Brian Libby


Thanks for giving your point of view on this from the city perspective.

To reply to one remark, you said, "If your interest was primarily to pass concerns on to the City, perhaps contacting the City prior to promulgating presumptions would be in order."

My interest is primarily to pass concerns on to readers, not the city, and to have a discussion. Ideally, if I were pursuing this as an article in the newspaper or a magazine, I'd have contacted all sides and provided quotes from everyone. This being a blog, however, I treat it more as an ongoing conversation and leave the decision about joining this open forum to others. Now that you've joined in, we're better for it. But opening a conversation based solely on the concerns of a developer and designer isn't wrong either. Granted, sometimes the difference between journalism and blogging, as 'Truth' brought up earlier, is an ambiguous one. I'm doing my best to project and pass on accurate comments, but I also believe in allowing the rawness of people's comments without the usual journalistic filter. I also maintain that blogging and online forums are a different medium from journalism. I guess like you with city regulations, I'm tired of answering the same accusations all the time.


So, Mr Joslin, what exactly is the City's reasoning for asking that the building be shorter...it sounds like you have no real grounds for requesting such a change. If it's because the house behind it is single family, then what happens if that house is removed and the R2 site is built out, having several story town-homes? Are we building to what could be for the future based on the code, or are we building to what exists now, with no eye towards the future? Or as proposed that subjective middle ground?

In response to Brian, and off topic a bit. Yes I do read your site quite often. And comment occasionally. However I am becoming increasingly frustrated by your "blogging". With no real effort towards presenting two sides to a story. As Mr Joslin stated perhaps you should have contacted the city before posting...that was my point with the journalism comment. It appears that you solely intended to get everyone up in arms over another travesty, without giving any detail. I'm not saying there's no issue here with regards to the City's position, i was simply stating that without the whole story how can anyone pass judgement?
Have you given any thought to allowing other people to post stories. Stories like this in particular, may be best written by those affected, like Jon, rather than passing through a third party...as Jon seemed to know a lot more than your story led me to believe. And I appreciate him clearing up any assumptions I may have made, with the limited facts presented.


wait, so did the project meet the zoning requirements or not?

when Joslin says: "It's understandable that one might believe the Code is the Code. However, there are multiple regulations at work, and all must be met." does that mean some objective requirement was not met, or does this imply a subjective ruling? wouldn't be the first time.

can anyone shed light on this?


Sounds like Jeff is throwing a hissy fit because Jon didn't respect his authority at design review, and foolishly relied on the codes. LOL.

Grow up, Jeff. I feel like I'm in kindergarten.

Skinny City Girl

Developers usually learn the hard way that "building height" isn't just building height in Portland.
There are caveats and exceptions to every rule.

Design Review is a piece of cake compared to a land division. Don't even think about trying to do that without a staff of three and a lawyer. :)


The design of the Shoebox Lofts met ALL code requirements.

Jeff Joslin

The proposal did, indeed, conform to the prescriptive standards with the Zoning Code. However, Design Review criteria must also be met per that same Code.


But the design review criteria is subjective (right?) And even though the project team talked with the city officials and made changes per their comments the project is still stalled...so how does something like this get resolved? Who is designing this building? The architect or the city officials? Is seems that all parties should give a little. Yes, maybe it might be to tall on the R-2 side but the architects did lower it. As a previous comment asked, are we planning for now or the future? I don't know...but it seems that this project has a lot of merit to it. Affordable housing is needed, especially with the projected population growth for the next few years. What do we want our city to be? Anyways...i have thrown a lot out there...


I am hearing more and more from the development community that one should simply avoid the "d" overlay at all costs when scouting for projects.


Thanks Jeff for the info on the Belmont project. I suspected as much and am hopeful the building will be an asset to the community.

Design review, for all its imperfections, is probably a necessary evil. In this particular case I think it probably isn't serving the project well. In other cases it saves us all from some real disasters.

Brian Libby

I wanted to respond to something Truth said about guest bloggers. I would welcome the contributions of anyone who would like to guest-post something to Portland Architecture. That's been the case from the start. But in three years of blogging, I've never had any takers.

Jon Gustafson, the developer of the Shoebox lofts, wrote me and suggested looking at his project's case in a blog post because he felt I could pass on some of his frustrations as part of an open-ended, questioning, evolving dialogue.

It wasn't my intention to present a one-side debate. I'd hoped that it would be clear that I was not out to villify the city in this situation. And I still don't think I did that.

As I've said before, I strongly support design review, but feel whether it's the Shoebox Lofts, the recent project by William Kaven, or other projects that have gone through design review, I'm picking up on confusion and frustration associated with that otherwise worthy process. But the city of Portland has plenty more opportunities and means to get their message out than somebody like Jon Gustafson. I don't apologize for presenting his statements and letting readers decide their validity.

The process of writing the blog posts themselves is, as we've agreed, not a traditional piece of journalism with point-counterpoint presented within the context of the post. Instead, that balance evolves more organically - and with the help of commenters like yourself. I welcome anyone who wants to join in with this blog and write posts. In the meantime, though, I will continue trying to use Portland Architecture as people use other blogs throughout the universe: as a looser, more conversational forum. Your frustrations/criticisms are well taken, and I'll incorporate them into the otherwise overwhelmingly positive feedback I've received regarding the blog.

Skinny City Girl

I like the forum here because of Brian's perspective, not because I want to read the same information I get everywhere else. It's his blog!


politics, protocol, zoning etc aside - design review is an entity that can weigh in from a subjective standpoint. that is the humane aspect to the process that separates such devices from a pure prescriptive solution to an architectural challenge. maybe i am in the minority here, but i think the building has a lot to be desired - and honestly it could be much better. design review is a panel of diverse professionals that are apt to make bad judgments, but probably more times than not they make solid concerned decisions for the fabric of the city. i think the building can do a lot better. design review is a breeze if you meet and address concerns head on -


Jeff included the following information in his original post:

"When forwarding a project that is pioneering and pushing the edge of a number of envelopes, early dialogue would be typical and appropriate. The Design Review team is fully available for such contact. In this case, unfortunately, that early contact did not occur. The builder/developer received concerns as soon as possible following submission, but this was apparently late in his process, following substantial commitment to a particular approach. "

If this is true, it is unfortunate, and frankly inexcusable, that the architect and/or developer did not meet with City staff prior to submission. This should be done as a matter of course for ANY project that is required to go through Design Review, not just ones that are "pioneering and pushing the edge".


Just to clarify, we did meet with the City planning staff, early. We did this to avoid the situation we are in. We took the information we were given and designed a building that met the requirements. Unfortunately, Jeff's suggestion of early design review assumes I could a afford to hire an architect to design a building twice. Once to gather feedback and to find out what the city will accept, and again to meet their requirements. I know that process works for developers in the Pearl and SoWa, but not for infill projects by small fish like me. Further frustrating is that this design review was conducted by one person, not a panel. So, not only does the process become subjective, but it becomes dependant on one person's opinion. Thanks for all the comments, I think this is such a valuable and important discussion.


Jon Gustafson says he and his architects met with planning early to come up with a design that would be acceptable. This is a reasonable approach. A developer should be able to rely on the approval of one group of city planners, and not worry about being blindsided with a completely different, and in this case, subjective, requirement later in process.

Jeff Joslin wrote that "The Design Review team is fully available for such contact. In this case, unfortunately, that early contact did not occur."

Whose fault is that? Evidently, the city uses $80,000 of our property taxes each year to pay Jeff to passively offer his design approval. Why didn't the other planning employees get Jeff involved earlier if his approval was crucial to the project? Maybe they don't like working with Jeff, either. That's not Jon's fault, and his project shouldn't fail because the the other city employees initially kept Jeff out of the loop.

Now, after reading this thread, all developers should be on notice to meet with Jeff early, at the same time as they meet with everyone else. Take him to Higgins, tell him how important he is, and give him a token influence in your project, because if you don't, he may shoot your project down on a whim. If you don't like the sound of that, don't develop in the d overlay.

Chris Lonigro

I am including more information to answer any other questions concerning this project. This project includes 17 residential units (not 22 as stated above) with a 1K sf retail space below. Most of the units have ceiling heights approaching 15' increasing the perceived volume and allowing a maximum amount of light into these relatively small units. We did not ask for any adjustments. Because of the high ceilings, this project is tall, but within the zone. Being sympathetic to the height, we decreased the buildings site coverage to 50% (100% site coverage allowed) and increased the amount of landscaping area to 25% (no landscaping required). Due to the lack of parking, we incorporated covered bike parking to allow for two bicycles per unit plus a small bike repair cabinet with air compressor. All of this before design review. Our final proposal to design review lowered the rear building to 45' with the 14' rear setback, then went up to 55' tall 10' beyond (creating a 24' rear setback). This involved losing one unit. Considering that, Jon still wanted to keep the costs below $200k/unit. These are just facts about the project that may help.
Brian...keep up the good work


I'm writing to support this forum and the work Brian puts into it; I find Brian's perspective one of the most generous around when it comes to raising questions and inviting dialogue. I also think that this discussion around Expectations of Brian and this blogsite is beneficial. As blogging comes of age it is great to explore the differences between journalism and blogging, I come down more on Brian's side on this one. I don't expect BL to do all the research and contacting of varous sources, what i love is the rasiing of the questions and then letting the extended community respond and fill in pieces and perspectives.
I've also spent five years helping organize the Division street reviatilization plan (green street meets main street). I can appreciate design overlay as one way to try to have a bit of leverage with developers whose primary interest is making money and want to put up the minimum required by code to maximize units and profits and quality and aesthetics don't really matter. We in the local community have explored how to enncourage developments that includee quality, diversity, aesthetics, relatedness, sustainability and vibrant locally geared smaller scale business spaces. All these terms are quite loaded with possible meanings and yet all are aspects of a deeper ecology we have been trying to envision. There has been no one answer or even really good or efficienct way to do this, whether design overlay or other options, but it still feels important to work towards.
This Shoebox project sounds like it is trying to accomplish alot on a relatively small lot and I salute the developers for going for it. And as both a small developer and talking to both the city and neighbors early on is really helpful.


"The proposal did, indeed, conform to the prescriptive standards with the Zoning Code. However, Design Review criteria must also be met per that same Code." Jeff Joslin

See, in terms of the developers responsibility to cover their bases before committing heavily to a project, this is the part that leaves me wondering:

The developer Jon Gustafson sounds as if he was truly attempting to work with the city and the neighborhood to properly accommodate the guidelines for that area into the design of the building, yet he still failed to get a clear, timely indication from the design review commission that his project fell within general design review commission requirements. I would be highly interested in reading Jon Gustafson's explanation for why he believes this happened.

Just this last excerpt from one of Jeff Joslin's comments above:

"It's understandable that one might believe the Code is the Code. However, there are multiple regulations at work, and all must be met. When forwarding a project that is pioneering and pushing the edge of a number of envelopes, early dialogue would be typical and appropriate. The Design Review team is fully available for such contact. In this case, unfortunately, that early contact did not occur. The builder/developer received concerns as soon as possible following submission, but this was apparently late in his process, following substantial commitment to a particular approach." Jeff Joslin


It would be nice to hear if the developer was a considerate neighbor. Yes, they had neighborhood meetings. Yes, they are meeting the code. But if I want to build something higher than 6 feet on my property, I, as a good neighbor, will walk around, knock on my neighbor's doors, and talk to them about what I'd like to do.

Somehow I'm not sure any of us would be thrilled if our backyard neighbor came to our door and asked if we'd mind them building a structure a full two stories taller than our house. The reduction of privacy and daylight will reduce the value of the property behind this building.

I think it's time for architects to realize that they are not designing buildings in a vaccuum. It's important to take the surrounding buildings, landscape, and people into account.

It's admirable that the developer wants to do something nice for the neighborhood, but they need to be sensative to who and what's around them.


Anonymous, Jon said he "met with with the neighborhood early and often." The neighborhood association approved his design. This is an example of a developer and his architects taking "the surrounding buildings, landscape, and people into account," just like you say they should.


Let's play nice with Jeff. I don't feel like he's the bad guy. (He was not the reviewer of my building.) In my opinion, the process seems flawed, and Jeff is doing his best to support his staff and to explain current city policies. I wish he could help improve them, but I don't know if he has the power (does anybody know?) In any case, I appreciate his participation in this blog.

Jim Heuer

I don't want to get into the issues of the right and wrong of blogging, but come back to the matter of whether this building is a proper fit for its site.

We have a somewhat similar battle going on between the Irvington Community Association and a Lake Oswego-based developer related to a proposed condominium project at NE 15th and Hancock Streets. The proposed building would reach a height of over 70 feet... a height nominally allowed by the codes and zoning, but much higher than any of the vintage apartment buildings in the surrounding blocks.

In this case, the Historic Landmarks Commission has some say in the matter because the site is within an historic conservation district. As a result, a large number of Irvington residents have had the opportunity to file formal protests against the project.

The fundamental problem with many of these projects like the Showbox Lofts and the Hancock Street condos is that they are just too big for their sites. There is plenty of evidence that the value of smaller single family homes drops when over-sized apartments or condos are built next door. The reason these buildings are even being considered at all is that poorly conceived zoning regulations were put in place over 20 year ago when the value of our single-family housing stock was not well appreciated by the planners -- indeed the planners seem not to have thought much at all about the notion of preservation of historic community fabric.

Those of us who are in favor of greater density and are willing to see apartment or condo construction that fits into the historic fabric of our neighborhoods are frustrated by these zoning regulations that tempt developers to attempt projects that are bound to generate opposition. I cannot believe that a well designed, profitable building can't be constructed on these sites at a height of 35 or 40 feet.

To attempt to rectify the errors of past zoning the ICA is embarking on what is likely to be a long and bitterly fought battle to down-zone critical parts of Irvington such that large but not excessively oversized buildings are permitted.

By the way, you might notice that all too many of these higher density zoning designations, including those in the eastern half of Irvington, were made in areas which at the time had a high percentage of African American residents. Not that I'm accusing the city of racism in the 1970's or anything...


^"There is plenty of evidence that the value of smaller single family homes drops when over-sized apartments or condos are built next door."

such as?

Another Jon

Mr. Joslin,

What specific design review criteria were not met?


next time hire an architect that is more familiar with the "d" overlay and has been through the process before. shame on the architect that misled this developer through the process without proper care. it should also be mentioned that staff alone, or one individual does not review a project in a "vacuum". All staff, i.e. type 2, reviews projects with the team that is overseen by Jeff Joslin. Together they reach a consensus. Also, if the project would have been a type 3 (design commission), which it can be through appeal on a type 2 review, then the design commission can ONLY approve the project if the staff report recommends approval. The process is imperfect, but i think it is a good thing 90% of the time. Sorry for the developer if they feel that they fell into that 10%. I on the other hand think the project is pretty brutal and needs to work harder to be a better neighbor anyway.


The Buckman neighborhood has been putting out flyers to encourage community support to turn the entire Buckman neighborhood into a historic district so they can get the 'd' overlay. Oh joy!

I was thinking of going (I live in the hood) and voting against it.

Their little pamphlet seemed to focus heavily on ensuring that buyers in the neighborhood would 'have their assets protected.' Geez! Just makes them sound like snobbish San-Fran NIMBYs!

Jeff Joslin

I genuinely appreciate the range and depth of much of this conversation, as is typically the case with portlandarchitecture. The design review process and story here is constantly evolving, and this is type of dialogue (particularly in the ongoing absence of a formal architecture critic out there) is vital to that successful evolution.

One reminder I'd like to respectfully put out there - I believe we are all generally on the same motivational page here. We're all striving, in our respective ways, to ensure that we all do the best work acheivable in hopes that the City will move forward in a way that is most healthy, enduring, and representative of the the loftiest aspirations we can manifest in our time.

And Kim - if you'd like to contact me, I'd be happy to spend some time with you to offer you a more complete view of who we are, what makes us tick, and how we do what we do.


Ok, here it goes:

1. zilfondel - Please drive by SE 20th and Morrison and take a look at the recent Faux brick, Romanesque, modern, arch-heavy piece of poop architecture and then write me back and tell me that having Design Review in the Buckman Neighborhood could not have gotten us something a little bit better.

2. Aneeda - I think Uneeda take a drive on Belmont pass the large condo project and write back and tell me that it fits perfectly within the neighborhood.

3. Kim - please take Jeff up on his offer and meet with him. I sense some serious hostility issues brewing here (perhaps from some previous design review critique) and let me know how it goes.

4. crow - you are absolutely right. Design review does get it right 80 to 90 percent of the time. It's better than having the developers (and architects) run amok without any peer review at all.

5. Brian - keep up the good work. You aren't perfect but neither is anyone else that posts on this forum.

Chris Lonigro

We have been through the 'd' process many times before. Please explain the "misled this developer through the process without proper care" statement. The developer and the architect worked as a team developing this design. If you would elaborate on your statements, it could really help me in the future. The renderings in this post are not the renderings we submitted to design review.


i offer that architects need to mediate between the expectations of the client and the process itself. meeting with staff early on and getting their feedback and hashing out the differences in a more open forum prevents disasters when the final decision is rendered. personally i would never let a staff write a report that was not either in support or support with conditions that were within reason, otherwise there is no reason to take the client through the miserable experience. this will not help your relationship with your client or the city for that matter. it is purely subjective in the end, but the dialog with the city has to start early and be constructive. you can always appeal your way to the city council, but what a waste of time and money for all.

Chris Lonigro

I guess I am missing your point. From day one, we have been working with the city successfully on this project. I met with several planners on different occasions throughout the process...none had a problem with what we were trying to do. The project was presented two different times to the neighborhood and approved. When we officially submitted for design review is when this project got held up. This first meeting after submittal, suggestions and conditions were given. We went back, changed the drawings accordingly (did every change 'staff' suggested), came back, and then there were more suggestions and conditions. We went back, changed the drawings, and again...more suggestions. Crow, please tell me what else we could have done. I would be displeased if our client believed your insinuations of improper care. Again, the developer and the architect worked as a design team from day one. A sustainable development, all 17 units under $200k (11 units with 15'+/- ceilings), 1 retail space, 50% open space, and 25% landscaping...all on a 5,000 sf lot zoned EX.

Jeff Joslin


Once this process has entirely run its course, I'd be happy to sit down with you and more fully debrief. Suffice it to say, at this time, that my perception of this particular process does not correllate with yours.

Randy Leonard

To just throw in my two cents worth, I found the post and comments in the thread to be provoking, intriguing and, most importantly, helpful.

I think Jeff and his staff do an excellent job with the tasks they are prescribed within the current code.

However, I too am concerned that there are legitimate concerns raised by some that the design review process is too subjective. As a result, reasonable people can differ on whether or not any given design is appropriate for the site it is being proposed for.

I would appreciate thoughts and suggestions on how we can improve the design review process so that it could be more objective while still maintaing the high standard of design that Jeff and his staff strives for.

Maybe you would consider a separate post on that question, Brian?

Thank you.
Commissioner Randy Leonard
Commissioner in Charge,
Bureau of Development Serices


Subjectivity aside, from day 1, the Bureau of Development Services and the departments it oversees, by working more effectively together, should have been prepared to lay out exactly to Developer Jon Gustafson, the maximum allowable dimensions that his building could be.

It shouldn't be so difficult to tell someone in advance that their building can not exceed 45' at the back of the building out of consideration for neighboring residential homes if those homes are there at the time an application to build is submitted.


yeah, it's called a zoning code. but joslin trumps code. welcome to the city that works.

pdx designer

The design overlay zone is this part of town has a 2 track approval process: A- Plan Review and B. Design Review.

Track A. The architect/developer can propose a development which nay be up to 55 feet in height, has a required transition between the EX and R zone and must meet other prescriptive development standards stated in 33.218 Community Design Standards.

Track B. The architect/developer can propose a building up to 65 feet in height and a setback from the R zone. But Track B does not necessarily guarantee one to the fully allowed building envelope. That is why it is a discretionary (aka subjective) Design Review and the approval criteria is the Community Design Guidelines. It is the burden of the architect/developer to demonstrate how the proposal is consistent with the intention of those guidelines.

The architect/developer always has the option to make a case to the Design Commission. If the architectural and development community feel burdened by the process or mistreated by city design review staff then they should be pushing back in that forum. A blog seems like a rather impotent venue.

I am more concerned though that City feels it needs to respond to critiques of the process on this blog. I believe this may be the third time now.

Seems like the wrong forum and if Jeff Joslin really wants to engage with a larger community that he should organize with the Design Commission an open-house of some sort or at least some thing more engaged with a larger civic body.

I doubt this would ever happen as this would mean leaving the comfort, safety, and isolation of a bureaucracy and require acknowledgment that perhaps it is the actual oversight and execution of the design review process by city planners that may be at fault internally rather than design review guidelines.


I appreciate pdx designer's knowledge of the planning process. However, what's missing from the analysis, is that Track A dictates design elements. In housing, these standards can include requirements like front elevations divided into areas smaller then 500 square feet, roof pitches no flatter then 6/12, front porches no less then 48 square feet, ornamental columns at least 8”x8”. No more then 1 foot between porch floors and the ground can be left open, You can't expose more then 3 feet of foundation wall, you can't use plain concrete block, plain concrete, corrugated metal, plywood or sheet press board as exterior finish materials. Where horizontal siding is used, it would have to be ship lap or clapboard with a reveal of 3 to 6 inches. In some cases you can be required to have either a dormer, a porch with a gable end facing the street, or a gable end facing the front lot line with either a window or vent at least 4 square feet. Windows have to be at least as tall as they are wide, trim has to be at least 3-1/2 inches wide, and roof eaves have to project a minimum of 12 inches on all sides. These standards do vary by zone and building type and use, but generally they are very restrictive. Most of us who appreciate design, understand that such strict guidelines do not necessarily spawn, or even allow for good building design. Hence the need for a Track B that works fair and objectively.

Jeff Joslin

I'm a little surprised by pdx designer's critique of my participation here - the most public and accessible of forums. I've certainly no obligation to participate, and could decline or conceivably do so under the veil of anonymity if I was motivated by the desire for "comfort, safety, and isolation."

My purpose here has been consistently to help illuminate what we do, and why and how we do it, in an effort to balance the respective dialogues. There's often an assumption here that the process of design review is motivated by self-perpetuation and personal bias, orchestrated by faceless bureaucrats. I hope I'm imparting an understanding that this is a community-driven process, and that those of us administrating it are design professionals dedicated to working with the broader community and our citizen commissions to maintain and advance this process in a consistent, meaningful, responsive, and responsible manner.

Part of my personal role is representing the process in various forums. I speak to citizens, I work with neighborhood associations, I participate in forums, I'm in multiple public meetings each month, I speak to the press, and I attempt at every opportunity to address questions and concerns fairly and openly. And more recently, with Commissioner Leonard's blessing, I participate in dialogues such as this one. I hope this is found to be helpful and desirable as we continue to work toegether as a community to advance our broader collective design aspirations during this dynamically evolutionary time.

Jeff Joslin, architect

pdx designer

a blog is not a public forum.

a blog is web log and this case one that brian libby runs.

that his blog has become the de facto forum for this discussion speaks to the said state of design criticism here in portland and the said state of the city that it relies on one blog read by a self-select narrow audience to get the word out.

i would suggest that mr. joslin take his message to more public forums. he also needs to be more careful about how he throws out the title "design professionals." since when are city planners designers? how many actual "design professionals" with enough deep experience knowledge to know what there are talking about. from what other architects are telling me, the answer seems to be next to none and only jeff and another planner are actually licensed architects.

Brian Libby

pdx designer,

I think you've made some good points. It would indeed be good if the city were to have some kind of public forum with the architecture community about codes and such.

But villifying Jeff Joslin and others for joining in the conversation here only undermines your argument. It doesn't have to be one or the other. In fact, perhaps some more official dialogue sponsored by the city could come out of these online conversations.

pdx designer


"said" should read as sad...apologies clumsy thumbs on an ity bitty keypad

and i do not have the luxury to post from my city desk with a well paid permanent employment job as portland is a small town and a blog post can make enemies fast and kill your business...unlike the design review folks i have to work in the real world and getting projects built ain't cheap...

the fact remains that it is sad that your blog is the de facto forum for the city to respond the "public" about the design review process...no offense but come on....get the djc or the oregonian or the aia to sponsor a broader forum

i am not especially sympathetic with the architect's complaint about the constraints of the community design standards...yes they are prescriptive but no they do not determine an design outcome for the zoning at this site allows many ways to come up with a decent building envelope and opportunities to work with a restrained material palette ...restraints and constraints are opportunities..and the shoebox development team could have nailed this from day one and been in permitting through the plan review process...at least the community design standards are predictable and transparent...so figure it out gentlemen and get your project through the plan review approval and avoid a design review...plenty of other folks out there whom would take on the proposition and challenge without so much complaint.

on the subject of transparency...pdx design review is not transparent and it is essentially design by committee and jeff joslin deals the cards..and he is paid handsomely to deal them...he is the house and the house usually wins and rarely folds..do not bet against the house...you will probably lose big time and your client will blow through some serious cash because designer egos lose to bureaucrats and land use law....better off not to play the game and just go in and ask what they {he} wants and do it for a project like the shoebox lofts...for larger proposals at least you can get before a design commission that has heavy weights like jeff stuhr of holst at the table whom know what the they are talking about.

i say this from experience and losing money by betting against the house of joslin.

...are he or his staff design professionals?

now that would be a good question to ask on this blog. the design community i belong to says no...what say you as a writer and critic of design?


Unfortunatley, pdx designer is right. It's dreadfully sad, but true. I've learned an expensive lesson. The safe investment is a "safe" design. Too bad though, the last thing Portland needs is more "safe" architecture.


don't be confused. not safe is not necessarily good design. that statement sets a very dangerous precedent for anyting of question to be built in the city by will alone, without concern for broader issues and guides. the process of planning and land use may be subjective by those that govern them, as is the case with any laws that are passed, but ultimately we are free to challenge those laws. if you love your project so much hear out the staff and go to commission with it if you feel so strongly, but as in any large venture, such as spending millions of dollars to build a structure - there is risk. your architects should help navigate those risks and advice you of your options and henceforth risk. i wish you luck, but in my humble opinion - it could be better and you could get what you want pushing forward with your design with a little better mediation.

Jeff Joslin

When I first interviewed with the City, it was not to gain employment. I came in, as a practicing professional frustrated with the design review process to critique the process. What I was offerred was an opportunity to come in as a reformer, and I remain true to that mission.

I've worked continually over the last 15 years to improve the predictability, consistency, transparency, and flexibility of the process. Today - there are multiple avenues for early contact, a majority of the staff doing design review have substantial experience in private-side design and/or construction, and the dialogue with the community, and with the respective commissions and City Council, is more regular and constructive than ever before. This dialogue sets the tone and bar for the process (in this case, opportunities to take the discussion to the Design Commission were declined, though we did reality-check our concerns with Design Commission leadership).

I do not believe the process mandates "safe design" by definition, though I do understand, given the increasing challenge of keeping projects financially afloat, that many will choose a path-of-least-resistance approach. This, to me, is one of the most regrettable results of such a process. However, the process does not penalize or limit innovation or expressive design per se. It does, however, have an obligation to balance these values against policies and aspirations handed down from the community and leadership (both citizen commissions, and City Council) that take specific form in the guidelines and process that constitute design review.

It's clearly when projects push the edge of some envelope or another that the these values are most tested, and when the process for us is most challenging. It's also when we strive to be most creative in terms of guiding projects through the conversation. We attempt to give the clearest road map possible, as early as possible, given the nature of the project. However, the edgier the project, the foggier is our crystal ball.

Such moments are when utilizing the more open opportunities to connect early with Design Review staff, and to converse with the respective commission (such as the Design Advice Request, or an appeal of a minor review) are most valuable.

The challenge of getting any projects off the ground, let alone innovative ones, will continue to incline with the increasing cost of land/construction/money. This debate as to how best to balance our highest design aspiration with our collective notion of how to grown well or smart, will be ever more necessary. I'm grateful for all the responses here (yup, even the more personally assaulting ones) as continuing that debate, and look forward to other such discussion, regardless of the forum.

christopher lonigro

To clear up some conflict: Section 33.420.055.A.2 "When Community Design Standards May Be Used" states the proposal location is REQUIRED to be in the Albina Community Plan District as shown on Map 505-1. This property of 3952 North Williams is not located within the plan’s boundary as shown on Map 505-1.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Lead Sponsors


Portland Architecture on Facebook


  • StatCounter
Blog powered by Typepad

Paperblogs Network

Google Analytics

  • Google Analytics

Awards & Honors