Frequently Asked Questions

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What is Planning?

Planning, also called land use planning, urban planning or city and regional planning, is a dynamic profession that works to improve the welfare of people and their communities by creating more convenient, equitable, healthful, efficient, and attractive places for present and future generations. Good planning enables civic leaders, businesses, and citizens to play a meaningful role in creating communities that enrich people's lives. Planning serves as a "road map" to help community members envision how and where their community will grow, and will help them find the right balance of new development and essential services, protection of the environment, and innovative change (this definition is derived from the American Planning Association).

Many people’s first introduction to land use planning and planners occurs when they need a permit to build a new home or an addition, deck or shed to their existing home. Review and control of urban development (homes, garages, commercial buildings, parking lots, etc.) is primarily regulated through adopted zoning and subdivision codes. This type of planning is called current planning or development review. Planning includes a variety of activities including processing the aforementioned applications, approving land divisions and commercial development, protecting streams, slopes, historic homes and the floodplain, as well as community organizing, and an assortment of long-term visioning activities.


What is the Comprehensive Plan?

A Comprehensive Plan is the primary long-range planning document for guiding the development of the city. Like any good business plan, it is kept up-to-date, so that it is effective and reflect the needs of Oregon City residents. Periodic review of the City’s Comprehensive plans is required every five years or so in order to accomplish this. The plan was last reviewed in 2004 with slight adjustments currently being reviewed by the City Commission. Please take time to review the plan and send us your comments about it. Thanks!


Planning Regulations

The Oregon City Municipal code is reviewed for compliance with all federal, state, and Metro standards. This locally adopted code therefore implements all of the following:

  • Federal Requirements (such as wetland and stream protection);
  • State Requirements (such as the urban growth boundary and citizen participation);
  • Metro (Our Regional Government) Requirements (such as habitat protection);
  • City Requirements (such as home design standards)


Why does Infill Happen?

The Portland metropolitan area is predicted to grow by one million additional people by 2030. In Oregon, we have made a commitment to accommodate growth within the urban growth boundary, rather than develop the county with low-density homes and businesses. Land inside the urban growth boundary includes cities and services such as water and sewer systems, parks, schools and fire and police protection while land outside the boundary is intended to be primarily farm and forest use. The urban growth boundary is one of the tools managed by Metro, our regional government, to protect farms and forests from urban development and to promote the efficient use of land, public facilities and services inside the boundary. If you would like to learn more about the current status of the Oregon Statewide Land Use System, check out the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.


What is the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB)?

The State of Oregon requires Metro, our regional growth management agency, to review the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) every five years. If land within the UGB cannot accommodate the land use needs for the upcoming 20 years of projected population, the agency must either increase the density within the UGB or expand the boundary area. Expansion areas are chosen by protection of resource land (such as farming and forestry) and suitability for development. Metro facilitates discussion between the citizens and local jurisdictions in conjunction with a technical analysis to understand the most logical areas for expansion. The 1.5-year process includes an abundance of public outreach such as workshops, regional conferences, 24-hour comment lines, websites, direct mailing and public meetings. For additional information you may contact Metro at (503) 797-1700.


Planning for 40–50 Years of Regional Growth - Urban and Rural Reserves

The population of the Portland metropolitan region is expected to grow by nearly one million people by the year 2030. That’s a lot of people – all of whom will need homes, jobs, stores to shop in, roads to travel on and outdoor spaces to enjoy. To help make sure we will be able to accommodate this growth while maintaining a high quality of life for those already here, the region (which includes Metro and the three metropolitan counties – Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington) is going through a process to identify where urban growth should and should not take place in the next 40-50 years.


What is zoning?

Zoning districts are established to promote efficient and compatible land uses around the City. The districts distinguish permitted uses for each property and dimensional standards, such as minimum lot size setbacks and height limitations. Additional regulations assure protection if the site is historic, near a natural resource, slope or floodplain.

The purpose of Oregon City’s zoning ordinance under OCMC 17.02.015 is "to promote public health, safety and general welfare through standards and regulations designed to provide adequate light and air; to secure safety from fire and other dangers; to lessen congestion in the streets; to prevent the overcrowding of land; to assure opportunities for effective utilization of land; to provide for desired population densities; and to facilitate adequate provision for transportation, public utilities, parks and other provisions set forth in the city comprehensive plan and the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission Statewide Planning Goals."


How do I Change my Zoning Designation?

A zone change is required to meet the standards in Chapter 17.68 of the Oregon City Municipal Code. In order to assure this compliance, the application is reviewed by and subject to comment by City staff, the public, any interested party, the Planning Commission and the City Commission. Notice of the application includes a sign posted on the subject site, and notices posted online and mailed to all affected agencies and property owners within 300 feet to inform the public of the application and invite comments. Once the public comment period is over, a report including an analysis of how the proposal does or does not meet the criteria as well as a recommendation is completed by staff. A Planning Commission hearing will then be held where any interested party can testify regarding the application. After reading the report and listening to testimony, the Planning Commission (a 5-member voluntary board of citizens) votes on the application. If a majority of the Planning Commission denies the application, the zone change is denied. If a majority of the Planning Commission approves the zone change, a City Commission hearing would result. The City Commission (5 elected officials) listen to both written and oral testimony until the record is closed and they make the final City decision.


Why Should I Get a Permit?

Permits are important because they provide the surety that your project was constructed legally and to the standards within the Oregon City Municipal and State Building Codes. When you submit a permit application, it will be reviewed to ensure safety for your family and home, protection of the value of your home, peace of mind that the job was safely constructed and in compliance with all standards. Permits assure:

  • The project is soundly designed and safely constructed;
  • The project meets energy and water efficiency requirements;
  • The project is equipped with public utilities (sewer, water and storm lines);
  • The project is not constructed within a public easement;
  • Whether the proposed activity is allowed;
  • How the development will impact neighboring properties in terms of daylight, noise, privacy, etc.;
  • Architectural compatibility with nearby structures;
  • Whether access to the site is safe and whether the amount of traffic generated by the use is within the capacity of surrounding roads whether there is enough open space allowed for recreation and landscaping.


Who Owns the Property Next to Me?

Property ownership can be verified with the Clackamas County Tax Assessor. The Tax Assessor’s office may be contacted at (503) 655-8671.


What is the Difference Between a Homeowners Association and a Neighborhood Association?

A homeowner’s association (HOA) is a private organization set up by the developer of your subdivision. A HOA generally maintains common areas (such as parks or entranceways) and enforces neighborhood specific restrictions called Covenants, Codes & Restrictions (CC&R’s). The CC&R’s are created by the developer to maintain the look and property values of the neighborhood by creating neighborhood-specific rules of how the homes are used such as maximum fence heights, home color, rv parking, etc. The CC&R’s are a private agreement and thus are not enforceable by the City.

Neighborhood Associations are larger geographic areas organized by the City to provide a forum for neighborhood issues and link citizens with the government. Neighborhood associations hold regular meetings to:

  • Discuss neighborhood issues;
  • Plan activities;
  • Participate in presentations from the City, developers, and the business community, etc.


Do I need a Business License?

All businesses operating within Oregon City are required by Municipal Code (Chapter 5.04) to obtain a City business license. Businesses starting after June 30 may pay one-half the published fee for the current year.


Who is Responsible for Streets, Alleys, and Rights-of-Way?

The City of Oregon City maintains roadways that are open for travel. The department does not maintain areas that were dedicated for streets, but never improved and opened for travel. Property owners are responsible for any unopened street areas next to their property. Most improvements to streets and alleys, such as upgrading or paving surfaces, planting street trees, or installing sidewalks, are installed by:

  • Developers of adjacent property;
  • Private contract with private funding;
  • Street Use Permit with private funding and privately maintained;
  • The formation of a Local Improvement District (L.I.D.) in which neighboring property owners are proportionally assessed for a share of the costs; or
  • City-funded projects.


Will the City Repair the Raised Sidewalk in Front of my Home?

The Oregon City Municipal Code (Chapter 12.04) states that maintaining the sidewalk and curb in good repair is the responsibility of the abutting property owner. The City Public Works department (503) 657-8241, assists homeowners with inspection and guidance on how to repair damaged sidewalks.


What is a Street Tree?

A street tree is a tree that grows on city property. Generally, they are located adjacent to your home in a planter strip or median between the sidewalk and the street. When planter strips are not present, they may be planted near the street pavement or behind a sidewalk.


What is a Planter Strip?

The planter strip (aka "tree lawn") is the landscaped area between the street and the sidewalk. Sometimes this area is limited to a narrower strip or even a tree well on certain streets. The width of the planter strip and location of improvements (such as power lines, meter boxes, driveway cuts, etc) determines the location, size and type of tree that should be planted.


What are the Trimming Requirements for Street Trees?

In most cases, "topping" of trees is discouraged since it can severely injure trees. Maintenance includes trimming to remove dead branches, dangerous limbs and to maintain a minimum seven-foot clearance above all sidewalks and ten-foot clearance above the street. It is also important to water and mulch newly planted trees and keep the planter strips clear of weeds, obstructing vegetation and trash.


Tree Resources

  • City of Oregon City Planning Division – 503-722-3789  - Call to plant or remove a street tree.
  • Friends of Trees – 503-282-8846 - Community and natural area tree planting programs.
  • Portland General Electric – 503-736-5460
  • City of Oregon City Public Works - 503-246-6699 - Call before you dig to locate your utilities for free.
  • City of Oregon City Code Enforcement – 503-657-0891 - Call to file a complaint for a missing tree.


How do I File a Code Enforcement Complaint?

Clean and well maintained houses, yards and streets can contribute to a strong and healthy neighborhood. The Oregon City Municipal Code thus contains regulations for such items as abandoned vehicles on the street, solid waste on private property, removal of a street tree without obtaining a permit, etc. If you notice that a violation has occurred you may file a complaint with the Code enforcement Division at the City. All complaints may be filed anonymously here or by calling (503) 496-1559.


What is a Concept Plan?

Metro (our regional government) requires concept plans be created for lands recently added to the urban growth boundary which may eventually be annexed into the city. Concept plans provide an opportunity to prepare for development of the land in a manner that meets the needs of current and future residents by envisioning the need and location of land uses, major road connections, design requirements, environmental protection measures, the locations of open spaces, parks and public facilities, etc. Oregon City has completed the Park Place Concept Plan as well as the Beavercreek Road Concept Plan. These are long term-plans which plan for land in the far future and are not expected to be fully implemented for a few decades. Land within a concept plan area are subject to the following process prior to development:


Development Process for Lands within a Concept Plan

  • Development of the Plan– The Concept Plan is created by many public meetings, a Citizen Involvement Committee, Technical Involvement Committee and a design charrette to direct development of the land prior to construction. The entire community is invited to participate in creating concept plans.
  • Public Hearings – Once a plan is created, a series of formal public hearings by the Oregon City Planning Commission and City Commission provide an opportunity for additional comment on the plan before it is adopted. The City Commission (elected officials) is ultimately the group which adopts Concept Plans.
  • Annexation – A property owner is required to annex into Oregon City prior to development of city standards. This is generally initiated by the property owner(s), and requires approval by a majority of Oregon City voters. Zoning is assigned once the property is annexed. A concept plan does not have to be complete prior to annexation to the city, but it is required prior to development.
  • City Development Process – Once property is annexed into the city, an application for development (e.g. subdivision, site plan etc.) is submitted to the Planning Division. The application includes noticing to neighbors, an explanation of the proposal on the subject site and potentially a series or public hears (dependant on the type of development proposed). Any member of the public may comment on the application and appeal the decision.
  • Building Permits – Once a development application is approved, the applicant may apply for building permits and begin construction.


What is the Process for Annexation and Who Votes on Annexation Approval?

In almost every circumstance, an annexation must be approved by the voters of the City. Various methods for annexation are provided below:

  • The most common method is a double majority annexation. In a double majority annexation, the applicant obtains consent from the owners of more than half the land area being annexed, then will gain approval by the City Commission and finally from more then half the registered voters in the City. If not enough property owners choose to sign the petition, the City Commission does not approve the application or not enough voters approve the annexation, the land would not annex into the City.
  • The City Commission may initiate annexation with approval of more than half the owners of the land area being annexed and from more then half the registered voters in the City. If not enough property owners choose to sign the petition, or not enough voters approve the annexation, the land would not annex into the City.
  • Emergency annexations may occur without a vote of the people in the event of a failed septic system within a given distance of the City. The property would connect to the City sewer system rather than fixing the failed septic.
  • The City may initiate an island annexation against the will of a property owner for land that is currently in the county, though is entirely surrounded by the City. Oregon City utilized this process in 2001 and does not foresee pursuing it again.

Annexation law is complex and you may want to check with an attorney if you have specific questions. Note that new legislation was passed allowing annexations which meet certain criteria to be approved by the City Commission without a vote.


What is an Overlay Zone?

An overlay consists of a mapped area which is subject to additional standards in excess of your zoning to ensure protection of a specific resource or guide development within a certain area. For example, in Oregon City there are five overlay districts including:

  •  Willamette River Greenway Overlay District: Protection of views from the Willamette River.
  • Natural Resource Overlay District: Protection of streams, wetlands and wildlife habitat.
  • Historic Overlay District: Preserve historic properties and districts with design standards.
  • Flood Management Overlay District: Assure the floodplain does not increase in size and all structures within the floodplain are safe.
  • Geologic Hazards: Protection of sloped, landslide and other hazardous areas.


What is the Natural Resource Overlay District?

Formerly known as the Water Resource Overlay District, the city recently adopted the new Natural Resource Overlay District. All development in the Water Quality Resource Area Overlay is subject to review by the City of Oregon City to ensure adequate protection of a nearby water feature (such as a stream or wetland). The Oregon City Municipal Code protects the water feature by enforcing a vegetated corridor consisting of native plantings along the bank of the stream to improve the water quality and function and discourage development within this corridor. All development, including the construction of buildings or other structures, mining, dredging, paving, filling, grading, or site clearing, and grubbing in amounts greater than ten cubic yards on any lot or excavation are required to be reviewed by the City for compliance with city development standards in Chapter 17.49 of the Oregon City Municipal Code. In addition, any other activity that results in the removal of more than ten percent of the existing vegetation in the water quality resource area is also subject to review, though activities on impervious surfaces are exempt. For additional information please contact the Planning Division at (503) 722-3789.


What is the Geologic Hazard Overlay Zone?

The purpose of the Geologic Hazard overlay zone is to protect development on or adjacent to hillsides of 25% slope or greater, landslides, mud flows, high ground water tables, and soil slump and erosion. In order to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public, t he city reviews all development in such areas to assure construction is completed to City standards.


 What is the Difference Between a Minor Partition and a Subdivision?

A minor partition is defined as a single division of land into two or three lots within a calendar year, while a subdivision is defined as a single division of land into four or more lots within a calendar year.

Do Neighborhood Associations Receieve Appeal Fee Waivers?

Yes. A city-recognized neighborhood association requesting an appeal fee waiver pursuant to 17.50.290(C) must officially approve the request through a vote of its general membership or board at a duly announced meeting prior to the filing of an appeal.