Today, a presentation at Portland City Council revealed a potential new tenant at 8037 SE Stark Street. The presenter explained that a group of veterinarians intended to create an urgent-care veterinary clinic in the corner shopfront. However, required site improvements could diminish or cancel their plans. This project served as one example in the presentation to support a temporary suspension of nonconforming upgrade requirements.
In the City Council AM Session on Wednesday, June 23rd, Matt Wickstrom with the Bureau of Development Services (BDS) shared a slide deck endorsing the temporary regulatory changes. The proposal seeks to remove the nonconforming upgrade burden on tenants during a post-COVID-19 recovery timeframe. Currently, on projects costing over $306,000, the applicant must spend up to ten percent of the project’s valuation on improving the property to current zoning requirements. Nonconforming upgrades trigger on existing developments where a tenant proposes an alteration or renovations, but site features no longer comply with city standards. These fees can sometimes stifle businesses attempting to fill empty commercial properties as the project costs can increase beyond what their budget will allow. Older buildings are most susceptible to this type of hidden development cost due to the number of regulatory changes made over time.
The proposal would exempt projects from being evaluated for nonconforming improvements until March 21st, 2023. After that date, city staff expects Portland’s economy will have recovered. However, the proposal doesn’t consider project size or the applicant’s ability to pay for the upgrades. As a result, larger projects could slip through without meeting site standards, denying overlooked communities the neighborhood enhancements these rules were designed to provide. Example improvements include tree planting, landscaping, and bicycle parking around the site. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty expressed reservations over passing this moratorium, fearing that large developers would take the opportunity to shirk their social responsibility to provide projects that meet the cities livability standards.
Nonconforming Upgrades include:
- Landscaping – particularly parking lot landscaping
- Screening – separation between differently zoned sites
- On-site pedestrian circulation
- Bicycle parking
An amendment to this proposal delayed the final vote until next week. However, it is likely to pass when it next comes to City Council. The passing of this proposal will clear the way for the urgent-care veterinary clinic to proceed unencumbered by the costs of providing parking lot landscaping. Look for updates to this project in the coming months after next week’s vote.