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Know the West

'Snooty' garages banned

  In keeping with Portland's pedestrian-friendly building codes, city council commissioners have been waging a war on oversized garages.

The Portland City Council unanimously concluded that "snout houses' - the tract homes dominated by garages thrusting toward the street - lack community spirit and make pedestrians feel less safe.

"These houses don't (just) turn their backs to the street," says Charlie Hales, the city commissioner who led the charge for the ban. "They ignore the street completely. All they present is the blank, sightless orifice of the garage doors."

Portland's ordinance requires that no more than 50 percent of a home's front wall be occupied by the garage, that the front door face the street rather than a recessed alcove and that the garage sit along the same line or behind the front of the house. It also requires windows or doors to cover at least 15 percent of the house's facade.

"This (ban) is a recognition that architecture affects the humanity of the street - whether it's safe, welcoming and neighborly - or just a void through which we drive our cars," Hales says.

But Mark Hylland, general counsel for the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland, says the rules have mixed effects on crime. Windows provide "eyes on the street," he notes, but they also allow people on the street to eye the contents of a house. Massive garages are "real, physical barriers' that help keep thieves at bay.

The new rules may also add thousands of dollars to the cost of new homes, particularly the middle-class "affordable housing" markets, he says.

City commissioners are sticking to their plan, however, in the hopes of continuing Portland's example-setting city planning.

Hales concludes, "We refuse to build our city around the car."

* Richard A. Lovett