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Anyone read Rick Postestio's take on it in Portland Monthly?

keath L

"...the Design Commission is proving to be incredibly successful in positively impacting our built environment. There was ample testimony that reiterated the importance and benefits of the commission, and what their efforts have meant to the city."

Really? Please cite and document 5 projects where the input from the Design Commission (not planning staff - the commission) significantly improved the design originally submitted by the architect or development team.

I would be very interested to see how many projects were significantly altered in a positive way by the commission.

Brian Libby

keath L, I didn't write this post, but the Design Commission has been improving the design of central city projects for more than 25 years. Maybe that's specifically to do with how these projects intersect with the street at the pedestrian realm. Maybe at times the back-and-forth causes headaches for owners and developers and architects. And it's certainly true that ugly buildings still find their way to completion despite the Design Commission's efforts. But I think to suggest that the commission hasn't positively impacted local architecture is in my mind an extreme case of hyperbole.

Keath L

Brian - I understand that you didn't write this post but it is on your website. You didn't answer my question. (Or the author didn't answer my question.) I'll make it simpler. Please cite five examples where design commission has significantly improved a project submitted in the last 12 months.

I don't deny that design review has had a positive affect on our built environment. What I do see however is the growth of design review influence beyond a legitimate and effective review of building design elements within a zoning and planning code, to an an expansive and very effective, unregulated revenue generator for a municipality that is looking for other funding sources. I wholeheartedly agree the design review has a place in the Portland built environment. I don't believe however that it should be a requirement that every piece of property within the city limits should be required to present to design review.

Based on recent discussions both at design commission and at the city of Portland, it appears that this is the direction that we are headed.

Nathan Day

Keath, the view of the Council, the Design Commission, the AIA, and the neighborhood associations is that there is only a need for design review with buildings of a larger scale, regardless of its location within the city as a means of being more equitable (why does a one-story, quarter-block building downtown get the 'higher standards' treatment than a five-story, superblock in East Portland?), and additionally there is an equal push to update the Community Design Standards as an alternative to design review altogether, which could reduce the total number of reviews citywide. As far as your request, please take your pick, any five you want: 14th & Irving, 631 SW Harrison, Barbur and Hooker building, 419 E Burnside, 2201 NE Lloyd Center, NW 9th & Couch, 2403 SW Jefferson, 222 NE 102nd Ave, 208 NW 5th Ave, 102 and Glisan, 1301 NW 12th, 11 NE MLK, 2120 NW Quimby, 1241 NW Johnson, 1306 NE 2nd Ave, 11th Ave & Market St, 1501 SW Taylor, NW Front Ave & Fremont Br, 60 NW Davis, 424 SW Mill, N Fargo & N Williams, 21st & Glisan, NE Holladay and 2nd, 820 SW 3rd, 3309 N Mississippi, 2030 NW 17th, 2280 NW Glisan, 1131 SE Oak, 710 NE Holladay, 401 W Burnside, 403 NW 5th, 818 SE 6th, 1621 NW 21st, 2750 SW Moody, 1417 NW 20th, 1010 NW Flanders, 2161 SW Yamhill, etc, etc, etc...

keath L

Nathan - " Design Review is used to ensure the conservation, enhancement, and continued vitality of the identified scenic, architectural, and cultural values of each design district or area and to promote quality development near transit facilities." (taken verbatim from the City's website.)

I appreciate your references to the number of projects "improved" by Design Review. Unfortunately, we (the readers) do not have access to images of the original submittals, nor to the revisions or conditions of approval proposed by design review. Just for discussions sake, Lets take the most recent approval by design review - Couch 9 by Vallister Corl Architects. I have only seen the night time image reported the DJC - an 11 story mixed use project. It is my understanding that it was approved with conditions. What are those conditions? Did they change or alter the original design? If so, it what way?

Here is, in my opinion, where the design review process breaks down. Design review is supposed .." to ensure the conservation, enhancement, and continued vitality of the identified scenic, architectural, and cultural values of each design district or area..." but what it becomes is a subjective critique of a design proposed by an owner or architect. The use of Community design standards as an alternative to Design Review is always an option if homogenous design is a goal. Obviously, the Couch 9 project did not use the Community design standards option in creating its design. If the submitted project has modifications or adjustments to the zoning and planning code, those items should be where the process focuses its attention. The design & detailing should be left to the architect as he/she are the responsible party for the design and any liability thereof. Design Review should not dictate design, finishes, materials or any other choice to be made by the architect unless shuck choice is contrary to requirements set by the zone or overlays.

Design Review has lost focus on why it was created. The City doesn't need additional unpaid design review panels to review the submitted proposals, the Design review process only needs to refocus its attention on its fundamental statement and provide a review process specific to the approval criteria for its zone. Any "subjective" process should be left up to the Design professional.

Your comment "why does a one-story, quarter-block building downtown get the 'higher standards' treatment than a five-story, superblock in East Portland?" reflects the difference of the "overlay" requirements. However, your inflammatory reference to a "superblock" development in east portland shows a lack of general zoning knowledge where the City has very specific language related to "superblock" requirements that are, in many ways, far more restrictive than what DR would require. A superblock project would need to meet that highly governed criteria to be approved, and would not be required to go through DR. A "higher standards treatment" is already in place within the code without going through DR.

Lastly, Lets says that the average new building project submitted to DR has a value of $600,000 and is a type III application. (That is low but lets use it anyway.) This project requires a DR fee of $22,648. (the Land Use Services fee is $19,000, (3.2%) while the total of Site Development, Life Safety, Water, BES and PBOT review services is the remaining $3648) The Design Review panel is an unpaid position. So where does this fee go? I would really like to see a break down of the costs specific to each DR case. ( BES and PBOT perform this service and send you the breakdown on your project.)

I am in favor of a limited Design review process when used properly, with discretion and in accordance with mission statement.

Steve Pinger

Nathan hi; great piece, but the reference to "the current polarization of neighborhood associations, which is directly related to the prevalent anti-density groundswell" seems pretty loose: there are real livability issues at play in the central Portland neighborhoods. I don't see the neighborhoods as being polarized (against what?), nor is the groundswell simply anti-density, but rather it is, once again, about how the transition in density is to be managed, and how the current tools, both the various design guidelines and the Community Design Standards, simply are not equipped to address this issue, and it will be the big one over the next couple of decades. Suggesting that "the coming Comprehensive Plan Update will hopefully address many of the issues" is a little out of synch, in that the work of the Quadrant Plans to date doesn't indicate any such outcome, and moreover suggests that the hopeful work of the earlier CC2035 Concept Plan is going to get pushed aside and watered down on these issues as the update moves along.

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