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DOZA Citywide Design 

We have been tracking this important and much needed update to our citywide design policies since the DOZA project started in 2016. It's complex but we're here to share what we've learned.

  • DOZA stands for the Design Overlay Zoning Amendments (DOZA). Sounds rather dry but is really, really important, as it will guide all new design and development of buildings. This includes standards, guidelines and "Design Overlays". 

  • Why it Matters: This is the first major update in nearly 30 years to the city-wide Design Standards and Guidelines and there are significant community concerns that need to be addressed as we shape our city. ​

  • Deadline for comments is currently November 15th. You can send a letter, give input via the city's map app , or call the Mayor’s office (503) 823-4120.  (More info at bottom of page)


PDX Main Streets Advocacy Guide | PSC DOZA Overview VideoComment Now

We're Reshaping our City Now
Do we have a Coherent Vision?

Who is Deciding?

A small number of Developers, Architects, Planners and Politicians. This is inequitable. And Not Contextual.

YOU deserve a VOICE

"Nothing about us, without us" is the Portland Way.

KEY CONCERNS + TALKING POINTS (More Advocacy and Detail Below)

  • Lack of Public Engagement - Very little outreach done by City on a major citywide design policy, particularly for the East Side.

  • 65 Foot Tall Trigger for Design Commission Review (6-stories) is too high given big impacts on narrow older vulnerable main streets! This creates contrast over compatibility, narrow lots are a poor fit so lead to demolition, and lack of main street design standards lead to creating bad context, big impacts and loss of neighborhood identity. 

  • What context should we be relating to? Context is raised as a guiding issue but there are no pictures of our long-standing building context only recent construction in the DOZA documents. The image at the Burnside Bridgehead above - our last 5-10 years or the 100+ harmonious design of our city that follows a common pattern which helps new buildings fit even when taller or of a different character?

  • What we are building is un-affordable due to poor design practices and frequently novelty for novelty sake adding further cost and little quality. Good time-tested design that you see on many older main streets is generally a more affordable design pattern we can use for new buildings that can be denser, with higher quality and more affordability. (Walsh Construction has good design guidance for this).

  • We are gentrifying, demolishing and displacing communities. We have a terrible history of this, yet the City does not recognize how unguided growth and narrow silo'd policy, and crisis-based myopic thinking is unintentionally perpetuating this right NOW. We know better from past mistakes. This is not good planning.

  • 13 undesignated historic districts are at risk (Hawthorne, Alberta, Belmont, Sellwood, Freemont, Montavilla, etc) 

  • “Future Work” for vulnerable main streets is not a priority for staff or Planning Commission. Despite identifying these vulnerable areas as important in the staff report (p. 52-53 Low Rise Commercial "Vintage Areas"). These areas were identified in the Low Rise Commercial Storefront Analysis in 2016. We must advocate for funding and staff with decision-makers and the Mayor NOW. PDX Main Streets has done much of the work identified as a need but the city will not recognize and value community based planning, only top-down approaches.

  • We can't manage if we don't measure.  We need to consider a broader set of criteria to guide growth and shape our city. We have a Sustainability Scorecard Initiative that can help us look at the many public goods we are balancing.

We can reach our same density targets with better results with creativity and innovation if the city uses more of planning tools to guide growth. PDX Main Streets has tools to help and innovative programmatic approaches. Advocate, Volunteer, Donate, Speak Out!


1) Visual Preference Survey + More Community Engagement. Reduce barriers to participation with a photo survey (ie a Visual Preference Survey) - we're changing the entire look and feel of our city without ever asking the people who live here in a meaningful way.

2) Advocate for a Lower Design Commission Review Trigger (40 feet) for narrow Vintage Main Streets where the buildings, lots and streets are small but impacts are great. We can still build to current code but with better results.

3) Advocate for the "FUTURE WORK" staff has identified for Low Rise Vintage Main Streets (from the staff report pages 52-53) as a priority for budget and planning staff NOW. Our community-led PDX Main Streets Guidelines (Division Design Guidelines) have been adopted by 7 business associations and neighborhoods and can be a strong foundation to work from now.

4) Advocate for our Sustainability Scorecard to better evaluate what we are gaining and what we are losing in a more big-picture comprehensive way.

5) Context Elevation - Add a Requirement for development project applicants to submit a Context Elevation and use PDX Main Streets Compatibility Criteria for helping new development fit better as we grow.

6) Support for Main Street Design Standards – give points for relating to main street patterns (such as: Base-Middle-Top, storefronts, treatment of all sides (no blank walls), human scale vertical windows)


7) Support for adding one (or more) Design Commissions for the E. Side -  This is encouraged in the DOZA Findings Report by Walker Macy and the DOZA Housing Affordability Memo. Seattle has many design review boards, Portland has only one.


8) Support for upper level stepbacks on narrow Main Streets when new development is 2x the height of adjacent buildings. This maintains abundant density but helps new development fit with local context better.


  • Design Overlay: There are new and updated Design Overlays ("D-Overlays") that will have new guiding policy. You can view these mapped overlays on the Map App and give testimony there as well.

  • Design Standards (Volume 2): Clear and objective "standards" that will govern design of most new developments - no design review is required. There are mandatory points and optional additional points - this is something to weigh in on. You can find these on page 34 in Volume 2.

  • Design Guidelines (Volume 3): 10 Overarching Guidelines. These are more flexible, however more open to interpretation. If a project cannot meet the Standards, then the new "Design Guidelines" will be used. Design review by staff is given if in the Design Overlay. Design Review is given by the Design Commission if in Central City, Gateway or for buildings above 65'.

  • Design Commission Review: will only kick in for projects over 65' tall or 80,000 square feet that go through the Design Guidelines (65' is roughly equivalent to a six-story building) - You can see a good chart of this on page 23 in the Staff Report.


We want to emphasize that this is a good project. It is a much needed update and staff has done good  work. However, there are some very significant concerns...

Insufficient public outreach and education is a very big concern given the sweeping impact of this project. The Staff Report mistakenly misrepresents the outreach done -  listing 61 events, meetings, etc between February-May 2019 since the DOZA "Discussion Draft" came out. However, this number is actually over the past two years of the project. It is a concern that there have been only four public events held since the Discussion Draft came out in February, and ONLY  ONE on the East side of Portland.


The proposal calls for a "City Designed for People" yet very few people know about it despite broad and frequent concerns raised about the design of new development. We are concerned that the people most affected are not getting noticed and engaged by the city.



Ask the City to conduct a "Visual Preference Survey" to engage the public in design priorities for new buildings. These policies are reshaping our city's design but there hasn't been any real engagement of the people of our city.


This is roughly equivalent to a 6-story building. Historic districts, downtown and Gateway have other review requirements but for those of us concerned about the rapid redevelopment of our older Main Streets - this is not scaled to "level of impact" as the draft proposal is aiming to do.


Recommendation #2:

Our research, surveys and feedback at community events have suggested that for older historic areas a 40' trigger for design review would be better scaled to impact.


13 undesignated historic districts are at risk without careful design standards and guidelines. This includes areas such as Hawthorne, Belmont, Alberta, Sellwood-Moreland, Montavilla, etc that have no conservation or historic district status. They will not have Design Commission Review and are vulnerable to redevelopment without a nod to their character giving features. These areas were identified in the Low Rise Commercial Storefront Analysis in 2016 but despite advocacy have been ignored until now. We are gratified to see these identified for "Future Work" (see pages 52-54 in the Staff Report). However, we are concerned that these areas are redeveloping now and are being rapidly lost. We cannot wait. This is a critical "Pattern Area" that DOZA should have addressed and is a significant gap. To fill that gap, PDX Main streets has created Main Street Design Guidelines. These guidelines might be used now if we advocate.

Recommendation #3:

We need Main Street Design Standards + Guidelines Now.

Encourage the City to use the PDX Main Street Design Guidelines as the foundation for design work to address the 13 undesignated historic districts ("Vintage Areas") identified in the Low Rise Commercial Storefront Analysis noted above.


These design guidelines were written for Division initially (AFTER it started redeveloping) but were really written for any main street. Our Main Street Architecture + Design Guidelines have been adopted by Division, Hawthorne, Sellwood-Moreland and Woodstock by seven neighborhood and business associations. Alberta has expressed interest as well. We have spent six years engaging the public to create these, we've studied the patterns of main streets across the city, we've gathered extensive data and public input and even gave the city our work two years ago to use in DOZA.  These guidelines and the immense public outreach we have done represent thousands of dollars and hours of donated professional design work. Chinatown's guidelines cost $175K and our are equivalent in content and had even more public process yet developed nearly all volunteer. They are our gift to the city to help fill the gap in budget and staff time to do this much needed work.

We can't wait any longer - these areas are at risk now.

TAKE ACTION -- Comments Due November 15, 2019

1) Via the Map App - www.portlandmaps.com/bps/mapapp


2) Write a Letter: Must include your name and address.

Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission

Design Overlay Zone Amendments

1900 SW 4th, Suite 7100 | Portland, Oregon 97201

3) Call the Mayor (503)-823-4120 - Its's fast and easy.

Its's fast and easy and where the decision power is. Ask for the Mayor’s staff person who is assigned to planning policy. This is not a technical issue - it is political. A quick phone call may make all the difference in establishing overwhelming public interest in better design of our City. Ultimately, the mayor sets the Planning Commission and Planning Department budgets and staff priorities.


Tell the City to:

1. Prioritize vulnerable Main Street business districts in budget and staff priorities (“Future Work for Low Rise Commercial Storefront Areas” in the Staff Report) – direct the Planning Commission to do same.


2. Practice Equity & Inclusion in Policymaking - Conduct a “Visual Preference Survey” to lower barriers to participation in complex policy so ALL can be involved in these critical design decisions that are reshaping our City. Support community-based planning like PDX Main Streets Design Guidelines grassroots work.


3. Extend the deadline for comments on DOZA and host more Planning Commission public hearings.