A seeming typo spoke to the fundamental argument about the Orenco townsite this week: should we preserve history or promote development?

In 2000 a line about building heights was removed from the Orenco Townsite Conservation Standards. City officials argue the change was accidental; intentional or not, the change increased the maximum height of nonresidential buildings from three to the citywide limit of five. An ordinance working its way through city council right now would change this back, meaning all nonresidential buildings would be limited to three stories.

Numerous Orenco townsite residents spoke out during the October 16 city council meeting—some arguing that the change was intentional and that higher density should be promoted, others arguing the change was a mistake and that the townsite’s history and charm should be preserved.

City council all voted for the first reading of the ordinance reverting the change; the ordinance will need to pass second reading next month in order to become policy. Councillor Rick Van Beveren requested city officials look into claims that the change was intentional before second reading.

So what are the exact changes? Here’s Laura Kelly, project manager for the city, writing in a memo to city council:

When the SCR-OTC (Station Community-Orenco Townsite Conservation) zone and the Orenco Townsite Conservation Standards were created in 1996 via Ordinance No. 4455, they contained a provision limiting the height of non-residential structures to three (3) stories. A subsequent revision to the Orenco Townsite Conservation Standards in 2000 deleted the three (3) story maximum height requirement as part of an effort to combine residential and non-residential design standards. The deletion appears to have been unintentional, as no discussion or acknowledgment of it can be found in the legislative record. As a result of the deletion, maximum building height for “commercial” uses reverted to five (5) stories and has remained so ever since. Community members have identified this as a clear discrepancy in need of correction that is out of alignment with the purpose of the Orenco Townsite Area.

I’m consistently blown away by how passionate Orenco townsite residents are about minutia like this. Anytime something about Orenco is on city council’s agenda you can bet someone from the community will be at the meeting talking about it.

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Photo credit: M.O. Stevens