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Council's Wind Turbines Exemption Draws Fire


The Portland city council got a lesson Wednesday in how hard it is to turn lofty environmental goals into action on the ground. Rob Manning reports.


The proposed code revisions are hundreds of pages long and cover everything from solar panels to retaining walls.

Yet after months of discussion, Mayor Sam Adams drew criticism for one amendment he submitted this week to exempt rooftop wind turbines from design and historic reviews for two years.

Design commission member Gwen Milleus, objected.

Gwen Milleus: “We could have a situation where we have a turbine that really can’t be safe, but is basically approved. Wind turbines visible from the street wouldn’t be found approvable in historic districts, under today’s design’s guidelines, but this exemption sends a mixed signal, suggesting that any location could be appropriate.”

But Adams says the turbines should be treated differently from other towers.

Mayor Sam Adams: “It’s disappointing that the design commission would equate wind turbines to cell phone towers. I find that disappointing.”

The code package is one of the first major proposals from the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. But the proposals revived an old debate over increased density in existing neighborhoods. 

Mark White: “I would absolutely beg you not to do that.”

That’s Mark White. He says the new code could possibly double the housing density in parts of East Portland.

Mark White: “Until we have sidewalks on our major corridors, let alone the surface streets where the residences are, I think it’s absolutely – it just doesn’t make sense to do that.”

Another East Portlander, commissioner Randy Leonard, says small lots can work if the buildings look good.

Randy Leonard: “I think the key, as the commissioner in charge of Bureau of Development Services, it’s not about whether we should have skinny lots, but it’s the design of the structure that’s on the lot.”

Leonard says Oregon’s land-use laws force cities like Portland to get denser, so that farmland on the edge of the urban area can be protected.

The city council scheduled a follow-up meeting on the code changes for next month.