By Garlynn Woodsong | CNA Board Member, SW1 CNA LUTC Chair
What if we were to allow retail on the neighborhood greenway system? Bicyclists wouldn’t need to leave the safety of bicycle infrastructure to visit a bicycle shop, go to a grocery store or visit a restaurant, cafe or pub.
Unfortunately for bicyclists seeking to not get hit by cars while going shopping, Portland’s neighborhood greenway system exists largely within a single-family zoning context, and these zones explicitly ban any sort of retail activities.
Given that single-family zoning was born out of a desire to practice racial exclusion through economic segregation, it’s certainly worth re-examining every aspect of this zoning. That includes its ban on commercial activities beyond home-based businesses that do not receive a significant volume of customers.
There are many existing examples – within our current single-dwelling zones – of buildings built prior to the imposition of the current zoning paradigm that included a retail component originally. They may be in the form of ground floor retail with apartments above, or street-facing retail with a residence adjacent.
Portland was built originally with a mix of the retail destinations people needed, with the residences where they lived in very close proximity. Within Concordia, there are a number of examples of buildings that featured commercial businesses originally, but are currently residential only. Most of these are in the oldest part of the neighborhood – west of 33rd Avenue and south of Killingsworth Street – which was built prior to the automobile boom of the 1920s.
In the racist fever of the 1940s and 1950s, zoning codes were used to separate white from Black populations within cities nationwide. Retail was also deemed to be a blight upon the purity of white-occupied, single-family zones, and they were segregated to retail-focused zones on main streets.
In the same way that accessory dwelling units (ADUs) have been used as the first baby step toward re-legalizing multi-family dwelling to single-family zones, accessory commercial units (ACUs) could be used to re-introduce retail to residential zones.
Accessory dwelling units – at least here in Portland – are confined to back yards, attics, basements and interior areas of houses where they are more difficult to see from the street. ACUs, however, depend on being visible from the street for their commercial success.
They therefore belong naturally within the front setback, taking over area currently allocated to driveways and front lawns. They repurpose the spaces for use as neighborhood-serving destinations that cater to clientele that arrives primarily by foot or bicycle.
The form of ACUs could be similar to that of ADUs: a maximum of 800 square feet and either separated from the main home by sufficient fire separation to satisfy the building code or attached.
Garlynn Woodsong lives on 29th Avenue, serves on the CNA board and is an avid bicyclist. He also is a dad who is passionate about the city his son will inherit. He is the planning + development partner with Cascadia Partners LLC, a local urban planning firm. Contact him at LandUse@ConcordiaPDX.org.