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Bayside Variety, Portland Maine (credit: John Phelan via Wikimedia Commons)

We had the pleasure of visiting Portland, Maine this week to help launch the development advocacy organization YIMBY Portland. YIMBY (Yes In My BackYard) is a nationwide movement of people coming together to support development, often to specifically advocate for the expansion of housing options in our cities. (And yes, we think “YIMBY” should also be a verb.) The event saw concerned citizens and advocates come together from a wide range of backgrounds to learn about and discuss the challenges facing this great city. In addition to some place-specific challenges, many of the barriers standing in the way of a vibrant, equitable, and prosperous Portland also plague many other cities across the US. Using Portland as a lens, we were brought in to illuminate these issues and discuss strategies for overcoming regulatory and development obstacles.

Over two days of panel discussions and workshops, we explored the range of challenges facing the city. Portland’s unique challenge lies in a recent influx of new residents from nearby urban centers like Boston, New York, and Washington, DC, sparked by the discovery of the city’s vibrant culinary culture, picturesque scenery, and relatively lower cost of living. This sudden in-migration has put tremendous pressure on the city’s limited supply of housing.

Portland shares other challenges with other cities throughout the country: the city’s outdated zoning ordinance limits the ability of developers to provide more housing in the city, and skews what housing that does get produced towards the luxury end of the spectrum, providing little relief for the needs of residents looking for more affordable options. While there is widespread consensus on the need to change the zoning to better support the collective goals laid out in the Portland 2030 plan, there is a critical lack of understanding of how to go about making those changes.

YIMBY Portland launch event (credit: KWA)

Portland citizens have a timely opportunity to influence current zoning guidelines called Recode Portland. The city is in the midst of the first major overhaul of their zoning in over 50 years. The current first phase is focused on a reorganization, while incorporating a range of smaller scale improvements if political cover is adequately provided. This is YIMBY Portland’s opportunity to mobilize a coalition and push for as many sensible reforms as possible. To aid in this effort, we’ve included a short list of Zoning Do’s and Don’ts below to be considered, shared, and advocated for:

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) DO adopt a simple maximum square footage allowance of 1,000-1,200 SF DO allow two ADUs for every parcel, one detached and one attached. The combined area of the two must fall within the total allowable square footage listed above. DON’T require any additional parking for the ADU DON’T include an owner occupancy requirement, but consider limitations on short term rentals DON’T require design standards that stipulate that the ADU must follow the style of the main house and be subordinate in nature to it DO allow ADUs on existing, non-conforming parcels

Parking DO eliminate off street parking requirements for all uses within a certain distance of a transit station. Typical distances are ¼ or ½ mile – the longer the distance, the better. DO allow on-street parking to count towards off-street parking requirements DO eliminate off street parking requirements for projects that include workforce or affordable housing DO allow adjacent/nearby uses to share off-street parking facilities by time of day. Allow this to be permitted via administrative approval, and not via public hearing. DO eliminate off street parking requirements for all buildings 50 years or older

Residential Development in Industrial Zones This will be especially helpful in Portland: Create a conditional use permit that allows residential uses in industrial zoning to avoid requiring a full rezoning. Set criteria that prioritize maintaining existing industrial building stock, but allow for infill housing on vacant or underutilized land adjacent to existing industrial buildings. Allow the entire site to be exempt from parking if workforce or affordable housing is provided.

We are excited for the next steps of YIMBY Portland. It is clear that the Portland community is full of passionate advocates for a wide range of issues – housing, homelessness, mobility, and many more. We have learned that a critical factor shared by many successful YIMBY campaigns is communication and cooperation among the different advocacy camps. Stick together, seek common goals, and look for opportunities for collective solutions to shared challenges. Those combined voices will be louder to elected officials and will go a long way towards creating a more inclusive, welcoming city for those that want to live in this great city.

For those interested in learning more, click here to see the full presentation.


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