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Change is the only Constant

It is the nature of cities to change and evolve over time. Sometimes the change is dramatic like the transformation that is occurring on SE Division Street today. Other times, it is more subtle like when a large tree on your street succumbs to old age and has to be removed. Large or small, changes to a city’s built environment have an impact. They can breathe new life into a city and they can also threaten what we like about where we live.Long-term city planning is an inexact science precisely because of the changing nature of cities and the people who inhabit them. New technologies, changing housing and lifestyle preferences, new businesses and industries, new laws, different aesthetics, and any number of local and global circumstances make it a challenge to plan for how Portland will be 20 years from now. The current update to the Comprehensive Plan attempts to direct how the city will grow and change over the next couple of decades, but experience tells us that even the best intentioned plans will get some things right and other things wrong.While long-range planning efforts like the Comprehensive Plan are both imperfect and necessary, there is also a continual need to address the issues of today.  One effort that is currently underway is the exotic sounding Regulatory Improvement Code Amendment Package (RICAP) 6. It is a project that is looking at 45 items in the city’s zoning code that have been identified as possibly needing to be updated and improved.The items range from those where the current zoning code language needs clarification to minor policy changes that will help address changing needs, laws, and technologies. One proposed policy change that has received a lot of interest involves the issue of short-term rentals. The proliferation of online services such as AirBnB and Home Away has made it possible for an increasing number of Portlanders to rent rooms in their homes on a short term basis (less than 30 days). Under the current zoning code, these types of short-term rentals are considered hotel or motel use and are prohibited in houses that are located in single-dwelling residential zones. People wishing to legally rent their rooms on a short-term basis need to apply for a conditional use permit, a costly process that the vast majority of people currently listing rooms on the online rental services aren’t undertaking.

To address this issue, the recommendation put forth in the draft discussion of RICAP 6 is for a permitting system to be set up that would allow for short-term rentals of one or two rooms in homes in residential zones.  People listing their properties for short-term rentals would be required to obtain a permit from the city and to follow regulations related to things such as the number of allowable meeting and social gatherings, signs, and notification of neighbors.

The issue of short-term rentals is just one example of how city codes and policies have to react to new technologies, business models, and preferences. Just like the city’s built landscape, regulations change over time.

Bob Kellett is the Neighborhood Planning Program Manager at SE Uplift. He can be reached at (503) 232-0010 ext. 314 or

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