Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz was the lone dissenter in this week’s adoption of the Residential Infill Project (RIP). Underdeveloped infrastructure and its impact on the environment was a component of Fritz’s objection. The RIP Ordinance and amendments will not address unimproved, under-improved roadways, and sidewalks.
Commissioner Fritz expressed many doubts regarding the effects of these new zoning code changes. In the August 12th City Council meeting, Fritz outlines how she believes it will hasten gentrification and do little to improve homeownership among people of color. The Commissioner expressed concern that this would benefit developers and landlords while making Portland less affordable.
Commissioner Fritz unified her objections under an environmental concern, stating that underdeveloped pedestrian infrastructure and lack of public transportation mandates car usage. Destiny construction without considering its location near resources is counterproductive to our environmental goals, explained Fritz. “Putting new homes where they never will have transit, never have sidewalks, never be close to jobs, and services will mean that we won’t be able to meet the climate emergency goals we all voted for a few weeks ago… New residents will have to drive to groceries, jobs, schools, and services.”
Beyond the indiscriminate nature of RIP’s zoning code changes, it does not provide sufficient infrastructure enhancements. Instead, developers can pay into the same system used for single-family and duplex homes. The Local Transportation Infrastructure Charge (LTIC) is an option for builders who do not want to improve their portion of the roadway. Before the recent changes, building a triplex or more dense building, required the developer to build sidewalks and roadways to the current city standards. With the changes to LTIC, they can pay into a general road and sidewalk fund that the city uses throughout Portland.
The LTIC change was a conservative solution and a minor adjustment to support RIP. “In terms of the RIP and the LTIC, the changes are just housekeeping to bring the LTIC code in compliance with the changes the RIP has made to Title 33. LTIC currently only applies to single-family and duplexes. RIP applies to tri and quadplexes. These changes will bring LTIC in alignment with RIP,” said John Brady, Communications Director at Portland Bureau of Transportation.
Without expanding LTIC, city officials worried there would be a patchwork of street improvements. Sidewalks only 25 to 100 feet long are evident on some older streets, LTIC was a way to prevent that from continuing. LTIC corrects the intermittent upgrades by pooling funds until the whole road can be updated all at once. It lessens the development cost, which encourages more housing development. However, it is nowhere close to being enough funding to fix all of our streets and provide sidewalks.
Additionally, those funds improve roads wherever the city feels it is needed most. There is little chance LTIC funds will improve the infrastructure near where funds were collected. Commissioner Fritz highlighted that point in her comments when voting against the ordinance adoption.
“In allowing the development of tri and four-plexus on gravel and curb-less streets, we have offered a dubious solution in the local transportation improvement charge that will not guarantee that sidewalks will be built wherever new development occurs. In fact, it will ensure people living in the new homes will never have paved streets or sidewalks in their lifetime.”
Fritz believes the new Zoning introduced by RIP will damage the environment through increased use of single owner vehicles. Due to its lacking support for sidewalks and roads that facilitate biking or bus transit. It also encourages small affordable homes on under-improved streets to be demolished, making room for high-density developments. That could make low-cost homeownership less attainable.
Others on the Portland City Council did not share Fritz’s concern for RIP. They believe that adding housing inventory, with incentives for low-income options, will outweigh the adverse effects of this ordinance. All involved in the deliberations seem to agree that under-improved and unimproved roadways are a problem that RIP does not address. For Commissioner Fritz, it was one significant reason not to support the program.
With RIP now passed, Portland streets will need news solutions to address their deficiencies. LTIC is not up to the job, but it does not need to be the only solution. There are many other funding options in our system to help. However, more will be required if we are serious about improving Portland’s infrastructure. Walking and biking need to happen on modern roads with continuous sidewalks. With increased public support, Portland City Council can adopt other programs to address streets and sidewalks. RIP turned out not to be the place to do that work, but its passing means we now have a greater need to replace our outdated roadways.