Have Your Bike Shed Ambitions Been Frustrated?

August 3, 2013

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has an ongoing process to clean up and improve the zoning code called “RICAP” (Regulatory Improvement and Code Amendment Package). We keep a database of suggestions, problems and common adjustments and periodically select items from the database to work on in packages.

We’re about to put together another such package, and there’s an issue that I’d like to get some feedback on (it’s not currently recommended for inclusion in the next group).

We allow garages to be built in the “setback” areas of a property (required buffers from the sidewalk or neighboring properties), but other storage structures have to be built in the interior of a lot.

But a garage is defined as being big enough to hold an automobile (9 feet x 18 feet). If you want to build a storage structure for smaller vehicles like bikes, motorcycles, Segways or scooters, you can’t do that in the setback areas.

Have you tried to build a “bicycle garage” and been limited by this zoning rule? I’m trying to determine how significant an issue this might be. Please share your experiences.



  1. Yes, definitely an issue. I own an in-fill house. It came with an uncovered drive-way, tight against the house and the neighbors lot. It’s the widest setback other than the front yard. There is no outdoor or unfinished storage; there is barely any interior finished storage other than the mandatory closets in each room.

    My family can’t afford to own a car. We are bike and transit dependent. We have slowly collected the bikes we need to get around, commute, transport our toddler, lug grocers from the store 3.5 miles home. I need storage for the two road bikes, XtraCycle, and WorkCycle we own.

    So let’s say when we moved in, we dropped a skinny tuff shed in the setback. Its something like 8-wide by 12-long by 7.5 tall. I have to hunch quite a bit to maneuver inside, but I can get four bikes in. The neighbors were supportive of it, but I’m pretty sure the code wouldn’t allow it.

    But the code allowed a house without a garage because it assumed everyone owns a car that can be parked in the elements; nevermind the rate of auto burglarization in my neighborhood. And we could afford this house near a semi-frequent (but not frequent enough) transit line. Would a city staffer make use remove it from the site, probably. Would that be crippling? Pretty much.

    I don’t know if my experience is common in a city where 60% of our growth since 2005 was low-car households. (http://bikeportland.org/2013/07/30/low-car-households-account-for-60-of-portland-growth-since-2005-91282)

  2. Has anything developed from this consideration?

    Some cities, such as Dallas Texas, permit structures inside the setback if it’s all-metal; satisfying firewall separation goals. Is a similar accommodation also possible in Portland?

    I’m a homeowner that would love the opportunity to nudge a couple of small all-metal 8×10 structures into our setback, for reasons that include fire and personal safety. Having the added security of no hiding spots for creepy people (see below), in addition to adding ~150sq-ft of usable space to our garden…that would be wonderful.

    In summary, our neighbors have done their privacy things with the fences and hedges. We feel we’ve compromised our own privacy and security by trying to honor setback rules.

    Almost our entire back yard is a ~2,000sq-ft urban garden, and my wife is getting increasingly uncomfortable tending to the garden either when alone, or after dusk/dark, because of uncertainty over who might be hiding behind our storage and bike-garage structures (see below for details). Honestly, I’m creeped-out too.

    Our situation: as it currently stands, we have two 8×10 structures sitting in the corner of our lot; 5ft off both property lines. With a caveat that the city’s existing setback requirement has an effect of actually introducing security and possible fire-safety issues:
    1) We (or a neighbor) frequently catch someone jumping fences and hiding in this area (5 times in the past month alone; apparently an ongoing issue for years). One neighbor erected a 9ft tall fence before we purchased this place (no, they don’t have permits on file for that), and both neighbors have grown mature/tall hedges alongside adjacent property lines. The creepy person, once in our yard, has in-effect a hidden spot to do whatever it is they’re doing. We’ve been unsuccessful growing anything back there.

    2) I respect that setback regulations exist to help maintain light, air, separation for fire protection, and access for fire fighting…although we’re doing as much as we can within these rules to also impede movement in that setback area. There’s bulky lawn stuff, pieces of chain-link fence, extra firewood, a couple of plastic barrels, etc… No firefighter is going to be back there; so this intent for setbacks is in-effect overruled by our ongoing safety and security concerns, and attempts to manage thereof. Quite frankly, we do wonder if using the 5ft area for “storage” of such materials actually increases fire risks, or even creates spaces enabling the presence of rats and other unwanted critters.

    With neighbors maintaining barriers well in excess of 9ft in height (hedges or actual fences), it almost feels like we’re causing the problem; having a bike garage and storage shed, while also trying to honor the setback rules…but also creating a space for creepy people to hide.

    In that corner, the neighbor’s closest buildings are ~15 feet off one fenceline, and there’s no building within ~30 feet of the other fenceline – so maintaining physical spaces between residences/buildings doesn’t seem like a major issue here.

    Of all the purposes of a setback detailed in Title 33, Chapter 110.220, we remain at a loss how the 5ft rule actually helps anyone under our circumstances.

  3. There is potentially a “small structures” zoning project coming up shortly that would look at issues like this. Don’t lose hope!

    • Wow – thanks for the quick reply Chris!

      I’m very interested in details on the “small structures” project, and better understanding how I could contribute. I assume I can watch this blog for updates?

      • I’ll make a point to add a comment to this thread when the time comes. Thanks!

  4. The accessory structure project is now under way. Here’s an update: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/522710?

    • Thank you for this update. I’m reading details now.

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