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New Portland, Ore., Ordinances Ensure Access to Sunlight

September 9, 1986 GMT

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ In a city covered by clouds three of every five days, homeowners now are guaranteed access to sunshine.

Since February, city ordinances have prohibited new houses from casting shadows on their neighbors. But home builders are casting doubt on the ordinances, saying they are inefficient and may actually discourage energy- saving techniques.

The regulations, which apply to new subdivisions and new houses on existing lots, are designed to encourage use of solar energy.

″Solar access tends to produce a regimental style of development that puts houses in neat little rows facing south,″ said Charles Hales, director of governmental affairs for the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland.

Features designed to make subdivisions more marketable, such as curving streets, or more energy efficient, such as building with the terrain, may be precluded by the ordinances, Hales said.

Builder Mike Robinson, who recently completed a federally financed project of clustered houses in southeast Portland, said such a design would be prohibited under the new regulations.

″What we’ve done is eliminate an opportunity,″ he said. ″We’ve taken one type of product off the market.″

Architect Jim Gola said he ran into the ordinances when he applied for permits for two homes he designed.

In one case, he said, existence of a public greenway along one edge of the property enabled the owner to meet the sunlight requirements.

But in the other case, the owner had to enlarge his lot to ensure that the shadow the house would cast on the adjoining lot would meet the new requirements.

Hales said the ordinances could drive builders into the suburbs, where regulations are, at least for now, less demanding.

But Al Kiphut, assistant director of the city’s Energy Office, said building was up in Portland in the first four months after the ordinances went into effect.

A possible reduction in building, he said, ″is the standard argument that they throw at us and we just haven’t been able to document it.″

Portland is the biggest city in the nation to embrace solar access, and two consultants who helped develop the laws said they Portland’s actions an important development in the movement.

″Portland is a large and important city in the Northwest,″ Michael McKeever and Daniel Levi said in a paper prepared for a National League of Cities conference. ″Its acceptance of solar access will lead to another widening circle of local governments willing to start solar access programs.

″The foundation has been built in the Northwest for the widespread diffusion of solar access ordinances.″

The Bonneville Power Administration and the Oregon Department of Energy have financed a new program to help 21 local governments in the Portland area develop solar access ordinances, and the prospect the concept will spread worries home builders.

″The precedent counts,″ said Mike Nelson, of BenjFran Development, the busiest developer in the metropolitan area last year.

Portland City Commissioner Mike Lindberg, who introduced the ordinances and oversees the city’s Energy Office, said the home builders’ aversion to further regulation formed the real basis of their objections.

City officials don’t consider the builders’ objections to be valid, he said.

The seed for the solar access ordinances was contained in Portland’s Energy Policy, adopted in August 1979, calling for such things as weatherization of existing structures, energy-saving construction and alternate energy sources.

Conservation was further supported in 1980, when the Northwest Power Planning Council adopted the Northwest Power Act, which called for energy- efficient building codes.

″One essential component of making the new building code function most effectively, both from an energy savings and a construction cost perspective, is to ensure that new homes are sited in the sun,″ McKeever and Levi said in their paper.

The home builders and the city both plan to spend the rest of the first year evaluating the program.

Though Hales expects to show that solar access costs far more than it saves, Kiphut said city officials believe the program will be smoothly integrated into the regular permit process after the first year.

In developing the ordinances, Lindberg said, ″We showed it was the most cost-effective way of actually saving energy. The consumer is the big winner.″

But Hales remains unconvinced.

″The only people who build solar homes in 1986 are people with an emotional investment in solar energy,″ he said.